Even before the printing press, it was human nature to prick up our ears to hear the latest misdeeds of others, especially those who seemed to be better off in some way than ourselves. The masses ate up the latest scandals and misfortunes of the ruling classes and also leaned over the garden gate to hear whispers about the naughty neighbor down the street. As communications techniques have advanced from word-of-mouth through print and into social media, this penchant for salacious gossip has only grown.
Why are we so eager to hear tales of the sins and suffering of others? And why are we so eager to believe every bit of tittle tattle without any proof, at all?
It’s in our baser nature to want to feel more virtuous than others. If we know we are falling short of our own behavioral or material goals, it makes us feel better to be able to point at someone who is worse. If someone is more successful, we want to believe they must have done something shady to achieve their success or else we want them to be suffering in the midst of their fortune. This is human nature left unchecked.
There are good reasons to try to rise above these selfish attitudes, though. First of all, the Lord commands it. On a practical level, for those who reject Biblical admonitions, the insatiable consumption of bad news and nasty gossip taints us and those around us.
Here in Northern California wildfires are raging. There has been loss of life and many people are being forced from their homes. While communities farther from the firestorm are not in direct peril from the flames, the ash and smoke from the conflagrations cloud our sky and fill our lungs. Our lives are curtailed by the effects of the fire. Those who surround themselves with scandalous tales and rumors are affected in a similar manner: they begin to see everything through a haze of suspicion, thinking the worst of everyone.
In order to see clearly and breath freely, we need to distance ourselves from the constant stream of bad news, rumor, and innuendo.
8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. – Philippians 4:8 King James Version (KJV)