A Choice: 'Dishing the Dirt' or 'Biting Your Tongue'

by Sr. Marion Moeser
Wed, Jul 17th 2019 11:00 am

It seems that relating negative information about another is an age-old experience. The Old Testament warns against tale-bearing, urging that one guard one's mouth and tongue. In the New Testament we find similar warnings. Consider St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians where he presents the love command followed by, "If you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another."

The Letter of James devotes Chapter 3 to control of one's speech. We find: "If anyone does not fail in speech, this person is perfect, able to hold the whole body in check with a bridle" (3:2). James proceeds to speak of tiny bits in a horse's mouth guiding it (3:3), and a tiny rudder controlling a large ship (3:4), but then a little fire setting a large forest ablaze (3:5). The first two comparisons show the good from a small thing while the third verse departs from this pattern presenting a small thing, a flame, causing great damage, a forest fire. Having said that the tongue is small, James then boldly says: "The tongue is fire." He goes on to say that with the tongue one can bless God or "curse human beings made in God's likeness. From the same mouth come blessing and curse. My brothers and sisters, things like this ought not to happen!" (3:9-10).

Paul and James stand on the solid ground of their scriptures, the Old Testament. References can be found in Sirach, Isaiah and the Psalms.  And consider, for example, these verses from Proverbs:

"Scoundrels are a furnace of evil, and their lips are like a scorching fire" (16:27);
"By a word the impious ruin their neighbors" (11:9);
"Those who guard their mouths preserve themselves; those who open wide their lips bring ruin" (13:3);
"Perverse speech sows discord, and talebearing separates bosom friends" (16:28);
"A slanderer reveals secrets; so have nothing to do with a blabber" (20:19).
On the other hand, "Those who guard mouth and tongue guard themselves from trouble" (21:23).

However, James' letter also laments that "No human can tame the tongue."  How true this is;  it is certainly difficult. Sometimes when the "dirt" is being dished one easily joins in for whatever reason. Sometimes, too, it happens that a person will stop the gossip, an admirable action. Hopefully, we all know persons of whom it can be said, "I don't remember that one ever saying anything negative about anyone."

One also could make a collection of the sayings, or "proverbs" of Pope Francis. On his visits to parishes in Rome, he often speaks of gossip. For instance:

"The process of conversion requires small, concrete steps. For example, if you are able to not speak badly about someone else, you are on the right path for becoming a saint" (May 24, 2016); and "One way of loving as Jesus taught is "avoiding gossip, speaking ill of others. The touchstone of  judging love is the tongue. The thermometer of knowing the temperature of my love is the tongue" (May 6, 2018).
"Gossip is not a work of the Holy Spirit, it is not a work of the unity of the church. Gossip destroys the work of God" (June 6, 2018).

On many of these parish visits, Pope Francis, sometimes with a smile, includes this:

"When faced with the temptation to speak badly about someone, ... bite your tongue. Strong! Because this will swell the tongue and you will not be able to speak."

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