The celebrities’ arena thrives on gossip. But gossip is so spicy it creeps in even in our daily conversations. No wonder Herb Shriner, an American humourist and television host, said that “conversation is three persons standing on the corner talking. Gossip is when one of them departs”.
A Jewish proverb says that loose tongues are worse than wicked hands. Lisa Kirk, an American actress, defines a gossip as one who talks to you about others, a bore as one who talks to you about him or herself, and a brilliant conversationalist as one who talks to you about yourself.
Horace, an ancient Roman philosopher, strongly advises to “avoid inquisitive persons, for they are sure to be gossips, their ears are open to hear, and will not keep what is entrusted to them”.
Gossip and idle conversation trickles in when speech consists of talking about the private affairs of others, in talking merely to pass away the time, and in engaging in aimless and irrelevant conversation, perhaps for the passing excitement of a momentary laugh. Gossip magnifies the faults of others and introduces unworthy insinuations or fake news. Such an ungoverned condition of speech is the outcome of an ill-regulated mind. Just as a tiny spark sets a great forest on fire; it takes only some gossip to ruin a friendship or a relationship or even families.
So what are some of the remedies for taming the tongue?
In the spiritual life, as in the material, nothing is done without labour, and the higher cannot be known until the lower is fulfilled
Some claim that constant vigilance of speech is a must. Others recommend a kind of ‘halt’ strategy, or a sudden tongue biting just at the right moment. But it is easier said than done!
Self-control and discipline takes a certain amount of psychological and physiological energy. What happens when a powerful emotional impulse compels us to foolishly stick our tongues out to speak wrongly about the affairs of others? The tongue can bless or curse.
It is not surprising that all major religions prescribe ‘silence’ when treating the maladies of speech. Silence gives our tongue a sabbatical that our brain can put to good use. To bridle our tongue is a sign of virtue and leads to rightly govern our mind too.
Instead of letting our tongue run idly and foolishly, we make our speech strong and pure, and will either talk with a purpose or remain silent. Proverbs 17:9 says: “The one who covers an offence promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”
We must remember at heart that no matter how much our friends and neighbours are at fault, we are pretty much in the same boat and we all deserve some understanding and compassion. We are all children of the same God.
The apostle Paul, who landed on our island, clearly admonishes us to “let no corrupt communication proceed from your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers... Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice”.
In the spiritual life, as in the material, nothing is done without labour, and the higher cannot be known until the lower is fulfilled. How can the remote subtleties of the mind be regulated and divine transcendence hoped for without primarily developing the virtues of truthfulness, sincerity, reverence and self-control, which initially come from overcoming the vices of speech?
Gordon Vassallo is an accredited spiritual guide at the Centre for Ignatian Spirituality.
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