Let’s stop the small-town gossip

By Steven Hultgren
Posted 4/11/24

Having been born and raised in the Big Horn Basin, and calling Powell home for the past 14 years, I often reflect on the many blessings and opportunities that I appreciate about living in small-town …

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Let’s stop the small-town gossip


Having been born and raised in the Big Horn Basin, and calling Powell home for the past 14 years, I often reflect on the many blessings and opportunities that I appreciate about living in small-town Wyoming. I’m grateful to be able to raise my family in our community. Living in a tight-knit community where seemingly everyone knows each other, where neighbors look out for one another, serve one another and express sincere concern for each other’s well-being are just some of the many reasons living in small-town Wyoming can be special. 

Listing the negative aspects of small-town living would likely be chalked up to a short list of minor inconveniences. All of which I am more than happy to have in exchange for the far greater positives. The one exception to that would be the manner in which very personal “news” can spread like wildfire in a small town. The rumor mill spins quickly, leading to potentially damaging results. There is a distinct line between expressing sincere concern for one’s (physical, emotional and spiritual) well-being and conversing about somebody’s personal life for our own social entertainment. Such “water cooler talk” is easy to engage in without giving thought to the potentially destructive nature of such talk. When we take a step back, we can each see the potential for misinformation, untruths, and the negative impact on the lives of those at the center of the rumor or story. 

Perhaps equally destructive to the impact on one’s reputation is the way gossip can make it difficult for an individual to move on from a mistake or challenging time in their life. A person’s ability to learn from an experience and move forward to a brighter future can be greatly hindered by gossip. This is particularly true for the rising generation within our community. Their generation is one in which a single poor choice or embarrassing moment can instantly go viral in the form of a meme, a TikTok, be communicated to dozens of peers with one click, or be forever posted on a social media account on the internet. Destructive conversations can take many forms these days. 

As is the case with any difficulties we face in our lives, we can look to our savior, Jesus Christ, as an example of how to overcome our shortcomings and how we should strive to conduct ourselves. In chapter eight of the Book of John in the New Testament, we read that while Jesus was teaching at the temple, a group of scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman who had committed adultery. They questioned him in John 8:5 saying, “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” Jesus, after taking his time to respond, replied, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” 

Jesus’ response reminds us of the importance of considering our own imperfections and shortcomings before passing judgment. The same can be said of versions of familiar, modern metaphors about living in glass houses and pots calling kettles black. Perhaps equally noteworthy to this response from the savior, is his direct interaction with the woman. He did not rebuke, chastise or condemn her. He did not ask non-productive questions about how her past choices led to her present situation. He did not dwell on her past. His primary focus was on her future and the best way for her to move forward with her life. This is evident by his simple, yet significant, directive to her, “go, and sin no more,” John 8:11.

Each of us will likely recognize opportunities in our life to help someone we care about to move past a poor choice or difficult time in their life. We may be called upon directly as a family member, friend, neighbor, minister, etc. to show Christ-like charity and love to someone close to us that needs help moving forward. Those of us who are on the outside of those situations, and not directly involved, can also do our part in following the example of Jesus Christ and show love to our neighbors through prayer, our words (or in this case the words that we choose not to say) and our deeds. May we each do our part to strengthen our community by being more mindful of what we say, by considering the appropriateness of personal topics to be avoided and avoiding non-productive conversations about the lives of our neighbors. 

(Steven Hultgren is a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)