Thou shalt not chismis

12:20 AM April 21, 2017

That’s Taglish (Tagalog-English) for the 8th Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” This must be one of the most un-understood commandment that the ancients, or God Himself, set as a fundamental law because of a powerful human predisposition. In other words, there is that eternal temptation to make chismis.

When I was a young boy being taught about the Ten Commandments, they all seemed to be either serious mandates like loving God or serious warnings against grave transgressions. As the teacher would go through each Commandment, I was awed by the great responsibility of obeying. There was an instinctive trust that God knew what He was doing, and He was pointing out what was most important among the many things man ought to do or ought not to do.


The warnings against stealing and killing always seemed ominous, as though the heavens would fall on our heads if we committed those acts. Coveting our neighbor’s wife and goods were far from the mind of the very young but adulthood would show just why the Commandments are there. But one that seemed quite insignificant or innocuous was the one about bearing false witness against our neighbor. I had images of a courtroom where a witness would deliberately lie to prejudice another. That’s true, of course, but its commission is limited. Chismis is worse, so much worse.

When compared to killing and stealing, bearing false witness against one’s neighbor does not appear to be in an approximate category. But the wisdom of the Ten Commandments is a powerful and effective guide to life, both individual and collective. Why, then, is the 8th Commandment among the chosen ten? Why was it included in the first place?


There must be a million expert religious leaders from the major faiths who accept the Ten Commandments (the numbering and interpretation can be different but the commandments are the same) than can better explain their spirit and intent. I will move forward anyway and offer a layman’s take. Languages change and new words begin to take on new meanings in each modern era. This is my discovery, that Chismis is precisely what the 8th Commandment is all about.

In the first place, each of the Tem Commandments must have primordial impact in human and social life. For all the great faiths that subscribe to the Ten Commandments, the existence of God, his omnipotence and love for creation and mankind, and the eternal nature of God are protected and promoted in the first four. Life through the role of parents as heads of family and the ones responsible for perpetuating human life have the 4th Commandment. Keeping society safe and thriving, though, have the 5th to the 10th as major parameters. I assume, too, that many man-made laws are fundamentally grounded on these six commandments.

When I was young, chismis was meaningless. Even if I would overhear some adults in conversation, it was not important to me. And my parents were of the old school (a term I later would often hear, and referring to my generation by now). If we had nothing good to say about others, we were taught not to make our commentaries. Also, the dynamism of youth sought experience, not hearsay.

But when I started to work, my first seminar was in preparation to being promoted as supervisor. One exercise was, at that time, a most popular one called the rumor mill. That exercise would start with a source message being given verbally to one person, and that person would then pass it on to another, and so on. The intent was to keep the message intact in form and content. After a few persons, though, the message was getting distorted despite efforts to keep it in its original version. At the end of the process, after several persons had received and kept repeating the message, the distortion could be so bad that it was comic, or bizarre.

The rumor mill exercise was meant to show how people have a difficult time being accurate in communications even if they tried their best to do so. That is why official communication is often written in order to have a record in case there is a need to clarify.  What if, then, if there is no conscious and deliberate effort to be faithful to an original message? Normal passing on of information actually suffers some distortion or serious compromise.

All the more to chismis that is intentionally done to put down or malign another. When technology was not this speedy and powerful, Chismis was already hurting others, and society as well, so much so that it deserved to be one of ten supreme commandments. Today, it is not just usual human distortion through carelessness but social media players, led by trolls both in human and device form disguised as real identities, massively spreading lies to destroy or to propagandize. It turns out now that the 8th Commandment is taking front and center stage because technology and social media have magnified its capacity to be violated.

It may be that mankind was in a large way in darkness more than in the light. The age of information would not have been necessary if mankind was knowledgeable enough. But information became the focus of mankind because the darkness of superstition had also been destructive and had kept so many in an extended state of ignorance.


At the same time, as when we had been in darkness too long, I believe that a state of overload in information will come. Mankind,then, will be provoked to be more intelligent and productive, and a new or a sub-era will emerge where technology itself will help in bringing out the truth from a sea of lies. Already, software is being developed to sort out trolls. One day, laws will have technical evidence of lies being deliberately spread.

Meanwhile, the old way is still the best. Thou shalt not chismis and save the world a lot of heartaches.

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TAGS: 8th Commandment, chismis, God, Ten Commandments
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