Q&A: Questions and Answers

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“Q&A: Questions and Answers,” New Era, Dec. 1997, 17

Questions and Answers

Answers are intended for help and perspective, not as pronouncements of Church doctrine.

We are warned against gossiping. But is it gossip if what we talk about is true?

New Era

People often use the fact that the information is true to excuse the fact that they are talking about someone. Knowing that something is true does not make it right to spread the tale. A lot of hurt can come from talking about others. If the thing would be better left unsaid, then don’t say it.

Many people think gossip is the spreading of falsehoods or rumors. Of course, that kind of behavior is absolutely wrong, no question about it. But gossip also involves telling people personal things about another when it really is none of their business. Whether the information is true or not is not the issue. If telling others will do harm, cause embarrassment, or give faulty perceptions, then you have an obligation to stop the gossip by not spreading it to others.

It is especially important to keep confidences when someone asks you to. Often people need to talk about their problems or about someone who is causing them to worry. They may even ask you to keep it private. If you agree, then you should keep your word. Of course you should not agree to keep confidences about matters involving attempts at suicide or drug use or breaking the law. In those cases you must find someone who can help immediately.

It is not always wrong for you to talk to others about problems or difficulties in a person’s life. Your attitude and intentions are very important. If your intention is to help your friend, then it is not gossiping to tell someone who is in a position to help—a Young Women or Young Men leader, a home teacher, parent, or bishop.

In pioneer times, when Brigham Young was organizing the Saints into companies at Winter Quarters, he received a revelation from the Lord with instructions concerning gossip and backbiting. “Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another” (D&C 42:27). Today the instructions are the same. We should not speak badly of one another.

As many of our readers who wrote in mentioned, if it hurts the person or you cannot talk to them face to face about the problem, then you shouldn’t be talking to others about them. Gossip can be such a hurtful thing. It can wound people in ways that are hard to heal. Don’t participate in something so destructive and damaging.

Make it your goal to be the type of person who does not say bad things about others. Avoiding gossip will make you a better person and kinder friend. It is part of being a peacemaker. By avoiding gossip, you can avoid a lot of anger. Proverbs 26:20 says, “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.”


I remember in James 3:6 it says, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” Gossip remains gossip. If you put yourself in the other’s position, you will know if it is right to tell others the “truth.”Kathrin Pilz, 17
Darmstadt, Germany

Before I talk about someone, I always think about whether or not I would want someone to spread that information around if it was about me, true or not.

Jason Arch, 18
Midlothian, Virginia

Gossiping is negative when unkind things are said about someone with cruelty or jealousy. It is not considered gossiping when you speak positively of someone, in good taste, and complimentary.

Heidi Stansbury, 16
Jacksonville, Florida

When some people, like the bishop, talk about others at welfare meeting, it is not gossip because they are talking about certain families to help them. But if you are mentioning something to a friend, or if you are talking aimlessly just to talk, it could hurt someone.

Malory Theis, 13
Littleton, Colorado

Gossiping is everything that you are ashamed of saying aloud and face to face with the person you are talking of.

Oscar Ortiz, 15
Jyväskylä, Finland

I always ask myself three things before I say something about someone: (1) Is it true? (2) Is it kind? (3) Is it necessary? If the answer to these are all yes, it probably isn’t gossip.

Erin Goodman 14
Orem, Utah

The big thing about telling derogatory things about people is that in doing so we counteract the ability of others to forgive those people. Once when I was a new deacon, I found out why one of our home teaching families was not letting us visit them. I was telling my younger brother about this. My dad came up and told me I should not be repeating those things. I have come to realize that he was right, and we should not say bad things about people. Derogatory and bad things definitely do not fall under what we say we seek after in the 13th article of faith.

John Pack Lambert, 16
Sterling Heights, Michigan

In For the Strength of Youth, it says gossip is a kind of harmful language. If you are talking about someone else in a way that is not uplifting, or that would not bring that person joy, it isn’t right. We should care enough about each other’s feelings to respect their privacy.

Jennifer Young, 17
Palestine, Texas

Photography by John Luke; posed by model

During Christ’s ministry, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman before him who had commited a sin. They asked how she should be judged. Christ answered, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). Gossip is like throwing stones at someone. It is terribly hurtful and destructive, and because we are sinful ourselves, we really should not say bad things about others. (Engraving Jesus and the Woman in Adultery by Gustave Dore.)