Gossip is a girl problem. At least that’s what I heard! Truth is, I think guys struggle just as much with gossip as girls. It just looks different.
Enter my 8th grade guy’s small group. Somewhere during the small talk about their week, came the statement, “My ex-girlfriend is a psycho!” That was followed by an amazing, almost hard to believe, tale of relational/facebook crazy.
The group’s reaction is what showed me the bottom line difference between how guys and girls use gossip. What followed in my group was not group hug, sympathy for the one afflicted, or even different voices piling on with other juicy tidbits about the ex-girlfriend (as might be expected in a girl’s small group). Instead, there was an eruption of voices seeking to speak to their own personal affliction as if to “one-up” this guy’s psycho ex-girlfriend dilemma. One guy pipes up about his neighbor only to be interrupted by another talking about a girl in his class and another about a kid on his soccer team. Around and around they went and it seemed to get louder and louder with each story.
Where and how did I lose control of this group? How am I going to shift our focus back to something right and good? My solution: I called a timeout. I literally held my hands up in the form of a “T” and called a timeout. I had to stop the flow of the “one-up game”.
A phrase my mom always said sprang to the front of my mind, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” But wait, aren’t we, as small group leaders, looking for them to share, to respond to our questions and interact with each other? Of course! My mom was right but I didn’t want to kill the discussion—just re-direct it.
Like most things in life, we need to be taught how to do the right things, right. Deep down, my 8th grade guys want to share. They just don’t know how. So I asked a few simple questions: Sounds like your ex/neighbor/kid in class could really use some prayer. How could we pray for them? Silence. Tell me, what attracted you to you ex-girlfriend in the first place? More silence. I took them to Ephesians 4:29 “When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need – words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who hear.” (NCV)
Our discussion ended with a few positive comments about the people we trashed earlier and the truth about building other up with our words. Don’t be afraid to call a timeout or even multiple timeouts to challenge your group’s thinking, to point them to truth and to show them a better way. Just be sure to do it with grace so they will hear it and become strong.