Dear Son,

I am going to keep this very short and precise. I’m afraid that criticizing others has slowly taken root in your life.

I have observed, with concern, how quick you are to tear down your brother and little sister. The last time your mother talked to you, you said you were tempted to further criticize your brother. And, a few days back, when I found you talking ill of James, your friend, you said that you were only “listening” and that it was another friend who was gossiping.

If tearing others down is a temptation, how can we overcome it?

Certainly we can choose not to be the source of the gossip, but we can also choose not to listen to gossip or criticism. When we listen, we give the gossip power, and give the person gossiping an increased sense of importance by providing an audience.

Of course, this is hard advice to follow. We may really want to listen. And it can be embarrassing to cut someone’s gossip off midstream. But we can be tactful in the way we do it. For instance, we might say, “Look, Henry, I have a weakness for pointing out people’s failures. And I am doing something to deal with it. If you don’t mind, we’d better change the subject.”

Make the break clean. This helps the person sharing the gossip search his own conscience. And, what’s more, it will dawn on him someday that if we won’t listen to gossip about someone else, neither will we listen to someone else’s gossip about him. He will respect you for this.

My mother – your grandmother – had an infallible method for coping with gossips and critics. I’ll never forget the day when the lady next door was dripping vitriol about the neighbor on the far side. Your grandmother took hold of her neighbor’s arm. “Come on,” she said, “let’s go and talk to her about it.” It was the last time our next-door neighbor ever criticized another neighbor in my mother’s presence.

She did the same with all the neighbors. Did she miss out on all the gossip? Well, maybe she did. But what she lost in back-fence gossip, she gained in outpoured confidences. The women knew they could come to her with a personal problem or a heartache. They could trust her tongue. She probably had a more accurate, if less lurid, knowledge of what went on in the neighborhood.

In conclusion my son, I would like you to have a more trustworthy tongue. Know that without the wood, a fire goes out. Likewise, without gossip, a quarrel dies down.

With pride,

Your Father