THE SKIDDING TONGUE
Paul H. Jeyasingh
Tongue is one of God’s wonderful creations. It has several taste buds that help us in tasting and enjoying food. But too much of eating could be dangerous to health. Doctors often take a look at our tongue for diagnostic purposes. Sometimes we express our emotions like regret or surprise by sticking out the tongue and gently biting it.
Most Powerful Tool
Tongue is an essential tool in speech. It is true, we communicate in different ways. Silence can communicate. Our very presence or absence can communicate. Our body language can communicate. Our eyes can communicate joy, anger, sadness, dejection, depression, anxiety, worry, alarm, panic, etc. A hug or a pat or holding hands can also communicate. But the tongue is the most powerful tool of communication. Gandhi, through his speeches, led a silent bloodless revolution and brought freedom to his people. But Hitler, through his speeches, poisoned the minds of his own people, went on a killing spree for no justifiable reason and tried to overrun and enslave the world. Being a double edged sword, the tongue can hurt and destroy people. “Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceitfully. With their mouths they all speak cordially to their neighbours, but in their hearts they set traps for them” (Jer.9:8).
But there is another dangerous kind of communication, considered toxic, namely gossip, often done behind the back of a person covertly to spread rumour and to slander. God certainly did not create the tongue for gossipping and destroying others. Gossip is often called ‘verbal diarrhoea’ and ‘verbal tornado’. Tornado is very destructive. Watch your words! Like uncontrolled eating, unbridled tongue can create many complications in life. Even a slip of the tongue can cause acute embarrassments at times.
“A Greek philosopher asked his servant to provide the best dish possible. The servant prepared a dish of tongue, saying, ‘It is the best of all dishes, because with it we may bless and communicate happiness, dispel sorrow, remove despair, cheer the faint hearted, inspire the discouraged, and say a hundred other things to uplift mankind.’ Later, the philosopher asked his servant to provide the worst dish of which he could think. A dish of tongue appeared on the table. The servant said, ‘It is the worst, because with it we may curse and break human hearts, destroy reputations, promote discord and strife, set families, communities, and nations at war with each other.’ He was certainly a wise servant.” “…..blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth….” (Jas.3:10).
Characteristics: There is a very thin line between gossip and telling tales. Gossip is not conversation, nor is it a safety valve to release your pent-up emotions or suppressed anger. “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Gossipping is a bad habit. “The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” “Bad habits are like comfortable beds – easy to get into, but hard to get out of.”
All gossips are harmful in some way. ‘Harmless gossip’ doesn’t exist. Workplace gossip may be considered amusing; but in reality it can have highly disruptive and damaging consequences. “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends” (Pro.16:28 NLT). “Just as damaging as a madman shooting a deadly weapon is someone who lies to a friend and then says, ‘I was only joking.’ Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops. A quarrelsome person starts fights as easily as hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood. Rumours are dainty morsels that sink deep into one’s heart” (Pro.26:18-22 NLT).
Gossip can easily degenerate into backbiting (a backbiter has no guts and hence attacks from behind in the absence of the concerned person); and backbiting can degenerate into slander (character assassination). “When someone gossips, two persons are hurt – the person being talked about and the character and career of the person doing the talking.”
Gossip threatens job security and chances for career advancement. “A gossipper’s tongue is long and sharp enough to cut his own throat.” “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble” (Pro.21:23 NLT).
Chinese Whispers Syndrome
Remember, whatever bad you say about someone will quickly be repeated and it will be passed on from mouth to mouth with added spice, sounding something nasty. “The earth is elliptical. Like the Equator, gossip goes round and comes back to you, with salt, spice, and not always everything nice.” Aristotle said, “The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousand fold.”
Harmful whisperings do often come back to haunt the gossipper as alliances shift in the workplace. Damage control is very difficult at this stage. “Fools’ words get them into constant quarrels; they are asking for a beating. The mouths of fools are their ruin; they trap themselves with their lips” (Pro.18:6-7 NLT).
Gossip may ultimately end up undermining or destroying the credibility of the gossipper. He gets labelled as unreliable and untrustworthy. “If you set a trap for others, you will get caught in it yourself. If you roll a boulder down on others, it will crush you instead” (Pro.26:27 NLT). People who enjoy gossipping and rumour-mongering (quite innocently) are often taken for a ride and they find themselves at the losing end (victims).
Gossip has the potential to damage not only relationships, but also destroy team spirit and weaken an organisation’s overall health. Gossip adds stress to the workplace by polluting or poisoning the environment.
Gossip talks more, achieves little. It is a blunder and a time waster. “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut” (Pro.10:19 NLT).
Gossipping at the place of work can lead to:
- Hurt and discouragement, and even resentment, bitterness, anger and animosity in the mind of the victim.
- Toxic and unhealthy environment.
- Serious drop in mutual trust, generating mutual suspicion among the staff and the staff and management.
- Misplaced apprehension or fear in the minds of co-workers, if the rumour is related to the management policies or decisions.
- Wasted time and decreased productivity.
Consider the source of gossip and the hidden motives of the source. People sometimes plant information to manipulate a situation. Don’t carry tales without checking the facts. The four-way test of the things we say (or do): Is it true? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better relationships? Will it be beneficial to all?
Stop your ears to a talebearer. Remember, the man who speaks to you about others is sure to speak about you to someone else, by habit. So, be slow to respond with your own opinion. If your lips should keep from slips, observe five things with care - to whom you speak, of whom you speak, how, when and where.
James 3:8a Taming the tongue is not going to be easy because it is wild by nature and it needs to be domesticated. An unbridled tongue defiles the whole body. “And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself” (Jas.3:6).
An untamed tongue corrupts and stains the whole man – destroys his very character and personality of the gossipper. People dread him as a spitting cobra, because the tongue is a deadly poison, a restless evil (Jas.3:8b).
A serpentine tongue depicts deceit and lies. A serpent has a forked tongue. Many of us display our forked tongue every now and then. A forked tongue simply means “a tongue that speaks lies or words that are insincere or misleading.” The intention is to mislead or deceive others.
Always speak about another person when that person is there to clarify. Doing it behind someone’s back is unfair. Respect people who are absent. Talking about their personal life or their secrets should be avoided, since they can’t defend themselves. Do not attempt to colour the opinion of others by adding more spice. Remember, “The tongue is but three inches long, yet it can kill a man six feet tall” by character assassination. “…..the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (Jas.3:5).
Listen more (to find out the truth) and speak less (be guarded in your opinion). “A wise man reflects before he speaks (weighs his words); a fool speaks and then reflects.” “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires…… If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (Jas.1:19-20,26 NLT).
“Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips” (Psa.141:3 NLT)
“Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything” (Pro.13:3 NLT).