Question:

I have a friend that shares with me about other coworkers that have either said something that she did not like or hurt her feelings, in the past and currently, and I was wondering what exactly is the difference between just venting and gossiping.  She sometimes begins by saying "I am just venting," which sometimes I know that I do, but I know there is a fine line between venting and gossiping and I want to make sure that I do not cross that line. 


Answer:

First let us take what your coworker is doing, she is talking about something “she did not like, or hurt her feelings;” hence she is talking about bad things people do or stuff she does not like  about other people in some sort a way or form.

Dangers of the Work Area

Work is always a dangerous place to talk because anything you say is usually remembered and used against you later. Especially if you are a Christian, everyone is watching and will hold you to your word.  If you break your word or talk bad about someone else, it usually comes out as a big deal because one is a Christian. It will be remembered for years down the road. Even being told such things reflects back on you because if you do not object people, take it you agree.

But what does the Bible say about gossip? I am going to be using the NIV due to it generalizing few words together that represents gossip (slander, whisper, tale bearer, busy body, murmur, back biter).

Terms for Gossips in the Bible

This comes from the Hebrew word “rakiyl”, which means “slander, slanderer, tale bearer, informer”

  • "Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:16). Do not tell people things that will hurt your neighbor’s reputation.
  • "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret" (Proverbs 11:13). A gossip will tell your secrets to other people, or tell you other people’s secrets and betray your trust. The famous line we all hear is “I was told I was not supposed to tell anyone but……”
  • "A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much" (Proverbs 20:19). A gossip will betray you in whatever you confided in them about. The easiest gossips to spot are the ones who talk a little too much about everyone else's issue.

The next word is in Hebrew is “ragan” which means “to murmur, whisper, (Qal) murmurer (participle) 1) to murmur 2) backbiter (participle)."

  • "You grumbled in your tents and said, "The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us"" (Deuteronomy 1:27).
  • "They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the LORD" (Psalms 106:25). God’s people grumbled (complained) about how God wanted go into the land He had for them. Apply that to work. You do not like the way your boss or coworker does things so you spread dissention until everybody feels same way you do and turn people against your fellow coworker or boss.
  • "A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends" (Proverbs 16:28). People like to have other people take sides. The way they do this is by talking to friends or other coworkers. They gossip, spread rumors and slanders.  We all have been in situations especially in high school where you have a close group of friends but because there was a disagreement between a couple of people in the group or a fight, the group fractures. People are made to choose sides against their closest friends.
  • "The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts" (Proverbs 18:8). Gossip hits a core of a person being talked about and the people being told. Be careful what you say because it will last a long time! One must realize even if people know it’s a lie it still is now said and is in the person’s head. Whenever they see that person that thought will pop up.
  • "Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down" (Proverbs 26:20). This is a good one because it shows what gossip does: it spreads hate and strife and divides people. When gossip is discouraged, hate, complaining die out. No longer is there sides to take.

In the Greek “psithyrismos” means: 1)  a whispering, i.e. secret slandering; 2) of the magical murmuring of a charmer of snakes.

  • "For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder" (II Corinthians 12:20).

Also people who are going about gossiping (phyaros) are also called busy bodies (periergos).

Gossip:

  1. of persons uttering or doing silly things, garrulous, babbling
  2. of things, foolish, trifling, vain

Busy Bodies

  1. busy about trifles and neglectful of important matters
  2. esp. busy about other folks' affairs, a busybody
  3. of things: impertinent and superfluous
  • "Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to" (I Timothy 5:13).

One last word for busy bodies is in the Greek allotriepiskopos, which means "one who takes the supervision of affairs pertaining to others and in no wise to himself, a meddler in other men's affairs."

  • "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody(meddlers) in other people's matters" (I Peter 4:15 NKJV).

Let us take note that the basic meaning of gossip is to be in other people’s business and to slander is to put down or telling stuff that should not be told.  If you have to question if you should be being told something, then it is probably gossip.

What Does Gossip Look Like?

There is a story of one of Noah’s son’s in the Bible and how Ham went out and gossiped about his father:

And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him" (Genesis 9:20-24).

"In regards to the topic at hand, Ham found the nakedness of his father something unusual, perhaps of amusement -- enough to tell others about it. The word used, wayyagedh, carries the implication of telling or explaining something in detail. In this he showed disrespect for his father. Shem and Japheth refused to look at their father's nakedness and hid it. In this they showed Noah respect. Yet, the key to understanding this event is knowing that nakedness was a matter of shame, even in the privacy of a person's own tent” (Jeffery Hamilton). For the full article see: Why did Noah curse Ham's child just because Ham saw Noah naked?

What we notice is that Ham saw his father nakedness as entertaining enough he wanted to tell other people about it, yet did not take care of the problem. We see the attitude of Ham was wrong and he gossiped, but the attitude of the two other brothers was correct realizing that it was wrong to indulge in such talk, that it was shameful, they went and fix the situation, and on top of that showed respect by not even looking at their father while covering him with a blanket. In a sense they rebuked their brother’s actions with their own.

We know your friend does this because you said “something she did not like, or hurt her feelings.” I do not know her personally, so all I have is your word to go off of, but I will do a generalization. When most people say "I am just venting," they are gossiping because they slander people. If I say, “Bob over there is so frustrating because he is so childish. He needs to grow up. And he tells all those stupid jokes. I can’t wait to get away from him!”  I then say, “Sorry I just needed to vent because Bob is annoying, so childish and immature. I just wish I did not have to work with him.” When people say venting it means something that you do not like that another is doing or has done to you. It doesn’t mean what the other person did was bad, you just don’t like how they did it. By telling other people, you are letting other people, who cannot do something about the situation, know you do not like something about this person.

A gossip is known for telling more than one person, or will tell one person who will tell everyone else (another gossip).

Gossip can be about anything, even the truth. For example: “Did you hear that Bob and his wife are separated, I heard she left him for the milk man”. Even though this might be true, it is not your issue to deal with nor is it correct to spread such things around in work place. Especially if Bob is hurting and doesn’t need to deal with this issue at work. Work could be a place where he feels he can get away from it all and get a break from all the stress.

When people say, “I am venting” it is usually a way people justify gossiping.

We as Christians are supposed to be pure in speech, not slanders of other people or gossips (Ephesians 5:3-4; II Corinthians 12:20). 

A busy body is putting your nose where it don’t belong in someone else’s matters. Other people's issues are not yours. A person is just complaining so he can be heard. What this does is make the person feel important. If it is a real issue, such as sexual harassment or breaking laws or policies then that needs to be reported to someone in authority and not just complained about.

When it has nothing to do with you, leave it alone and say sorry but I do not want to hear gossip or venting.  If the issue has to do with you, then go to the person directly who said it. A lot of people go around telling everyone else about it and finally have the person who should have been talked to first be last person approached.  Once you are done talking to the person, the conversation stays only between you and that person. It is no one else’s business. The people who ask what was said are definitely the ones not to tell.

When Is Venting OK?

Is it OK to vent? At times yes. I vent about work, friends, family and life to my wife. What I say to her stays only between her and I.  But even with my wife, when I vent I don’t slander the person. I just say “this happened again at work today. I really need the weekend to come soon; I am stressed.” Usually we will pray about a situation and the people in regards to how I can improve it.  My venting doesn’t usually include telling tons of people but usually just my spouse.  I don’t berate or put down, but I do share my frustration with someone. I trust my wife and ask for her wisdom on the situation. When I do go outside of telling just my wife, it is usually to a mentor or someone who has wisdom to seek advice about the situations and how to handle it.

When your co-worker “vents,” is she speaking badly of other people? Is she ruining their reputation, putting someone down, belittling someone, elevating herself above others to make herself feel important, or telling more than one person? Does it happen often? If there is a real problem, why doesn’t she take it to management or talk to the problem person directly?

What to Do

If she is gossiping, it is your responsibility to make sure she no longer uses you as an outlet for her sin. You will have to let her know that you no longer want to hear “venting” because you think it is wrong. Tell her you are more than willing to talk about other things, just not things pertaining to her venting. If she asks why, it is a good opportunity to share a little bit about your faith, God, and why you follow what He says. Explain what gossip does to other people and how it affects everyone.

Peace, Love, Prayer
Alan Feaster