A young Indian squaw was brought before the tribal chief, accused of gossiping maliciously about another member of the tribe. The chief listened to the young woman’s admission, and it was apparent that she was clearly full of remorse. The chief had compassion for her but he knew that he must also teach her a lesson and demonstrate the consequences of her gossiping. As punishment the chief instructed her to go to the next village and purchase a hen, which she must kill and bring back to him. The chief told her, “On your return journey you must pluck every single feather from the bird and allow each feather to be carried away by the wind.”

The young maiden did as she was bid and shortly afterwards she stood, once again, before the tribal chief. The chief accepted the freshly plucked bird and then instructed the young woman that there was one last thing she must do, in order to pay her penance. “You must now re-trace your steps,” he said, “and pick up every last feather that belonged to the hen!” The girl was distraught and replied, “Great Chief, the task you have set for me is impossible. By now, the wind would surely have scattered the feathers far and wide across the open plane.”

“Precisely,” said the wise old chief. “Now, you see the full consequences of your gossiping. It is good that you are sorry but understand this: It is impossible to retrieve words you have spoken in gossip. Once you have let such words loose on the wind you cannot gather them back again. Now go, and from this day forth gossip no more.”