Cut the gossip, says the pope

His reminder applies to all of us

Psst! Did you hear? Even hairdressers and barbers gossip.

During an address on Monday, April 29, to Hairstylists of the Committees of St. Martin de Porres, an Italian Catholic association, Pope Francis acknowledged that gossiping can be a workplace hazard in hair salons and barbershops. He told hairdressers gathered in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace to put their clippers to gossip, much like they would to a botched haircut.

St. Martin de Porres, the 16th century Dominican brother, was proclaimed patron saint of hairstylists in 1966 by Pope St. Paul VI, said Pope Francis. He encouraged the hairdressers to seek their patron saint’s guidance to avoid gossip.

“May he encourage you to practice your profession in a Christian style, treating customers with kindness and courtesy, and always offering them a good and encouraging word, avoiding giving in to the temptation of gossip that can easily creep into your work environment, as we all know,” he said.

Merriam-Webster defines gossip as a rumor or report of an intimate nature. Gossip is also defined as “a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others.”

While the pope’s message on avoiding gossip was aimed at the hairdressing audience, his words could easily apply to any profession. That’s because gossiping is a universal practice and religious leaders have been condemning it since Old Testament times.

In Proverbs, Solomon warns, “Argue your own case with your neighbor, but the secrets of others do not disclose.” Even the eighth commandment states, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” This mostly applies to lying, but could include gossip.

Today, the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers additional advice about gossiping. “Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury” (CCC n.2477).

So how do we follow the pope’s advice on avoiding the temptation to gossip? One suggestion comes from a story credited to the Greek philosopher Socrates. It was retold by Fr. Michael Schmitz, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., in The Catholic Spirit of St. Paul, Minn., in March 2018.

As the story goes, Socrates was approached by an acquaintance who wanted to share information about one of Socrates’ students. “Before you tell me, I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Test of Three,” said Socrates.

“The first test is truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?” he said. His acquaintance’s answer was no. “Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?” he asked. Again, the answer was no. “Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?” Socrates questioned. “No, not really,” was the reply.

“If what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?” concluded Socrates.

When approached by a co-worker (or even a hairdresser) with a rumor, ask yourself: Is this true? Is this good? Is this useful? If not, don’t bother passing it along. It could violate the eighth commandment and possibly lead to others gossiping about you. Instead, memorize a line from Ephesians: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”