When you are immersed in one of the world’s largest and most prestigious medical centers, within one of the nation’s best and busiest children’s and women’s hospitals, one thing you might not ever expect to encounter is gossip. That’s because gossip, to most of us, is something that happens in a small town, in social clubs, in church … at high schools. But the truth of the matter is it happens everywhere, even here at Texas Children’s. And if we are not careful about what we share and with whom, we can easily find ourselves being a party to hurtful, destructive behavior.
Words have such incredible power, and negative words are particularly harmful. Gossip and rumors are so potent and often ruin reputations, friendships and families. Just as devastating are false, deceitful or unkind words in the workplace. They can create a toxic environment and greatly damage an organization, decreasing our focus and productivity and causing us to lose good staff and employees. There can even be legal ramifications if career-damaging gossip defames a person’s character or impacts their employability. Something that powerful deserves our close attention.
Dr. Ed Young, the pastor of Second Baptist Church, delivered a sermon – The Transparent Secret – a few years ago about this very thing. Dr. Young explained how speaking the right words at the right time is like “apples of gold and baskets of silver.” These positive words have soothing, healing powers. They diffuse situations, strengthen relationships and comfort people. However, the opposite is just as true when we speak the wrong words to the wrong people. Dr. Young called these words rotten apples.
“Rotten apples can upset an office. A rotten apple affects a home, a club, a church or any kind of group we’re in. It’s important that we do not speak rotten apples. However, some people have that habit. It’s ingrained in their lives and in their personalities. And all of us have areas of rottenness in our speech.”
He said those who are in the “rotten apple business” – whether on the internet or telephone, in the office or in the family – cause three deaths when they spread negativity: that of oneself, the person they’re sharing it with and the victim in the story, whether it’s true or not. Because we can sometimes even unintentionally be tempted to share information that quickly crosses the line into the arena of gossip, Dr. Young reminded us of this quick test. He said there are three things we should ask ourselves before we speak: Is it true? Is it kind? And is it necessary?
Let’s examine that a bit.
Is it true? Ever hear of that expression “too good to be true?” Well I think some things are too bad to be true. Too offensive to be true. Too unlike the normal character of the person in question to be true. And often when we hear false things about people, a voice within us refutes it. Yet, we listen anyway, and worse, we may repeat it. But is it true? Also, consider the source. Is the bit of information crossing your ears coming from someone who knows the inside scoop on everybody? How is that possible? It’s not, and chances are some, most or possibly all of what you are hearing is not accurate or being shared in the right context.
Is it kind? I admit it – some things we hear will be undeniably true. Maybe we have a firsthand account of the situation. Perhaps we observed it with our own eyes. But ask yourself, if the information that you have become privy to is unkind or unflattering to the affected person, should you repeat it? Almost always, the answer is no. The momentary relief or satisfaction one might get from sharing negative information can cause long-lasting or possibly irreparable damage to someone’s reputation and self-esteem. Our words are that powerful. Make sure they don’t perpetuate unkindness.
Is it necessary? This question is critical, because it often will place a hard stop on the flow of information that might have slipped past the first two questions. In fact, when assessing if something is necessary, Dr. Young challenged, “Are you saving a life? Are you protecting someone from abuse?” Chances are, much of what’s repeated often falls in neither category.
There are things we will know about others that are absolutely true. And we may consider our actions kind because we believe the intentions of our hearts are good. But even good intentions must be questioned to maintain the best interest of all those involved. Is there really any net gain for the greater good in sharing the information you know? Depending on the information and your relationship with the affected person, maybe what he or she deserves or actually needs is guidance, a listening ear or prayer to help get them onto a better path.
Giving and being our best selves means ridding ourselves of false or negative words … getting rid of those rotten apples, as Dr. Young calls them. Instead, he suggests, give golden apples. Golden apples give health and joy. If we are mindful, we can use golden apples – positive words and constructive actions – to make an impact that builds a relationship, lifts a team’s morale or strengthens the culture of an entire organization.