I’m Susan and I’m a workaholic. My life has become unmanageable and exceeds the bounds of moderation.
I don’t think I’m alone, especially in the Baha’i community.
I’m driven to complete my goals. I’m driven to please others. I’m driven to being the best Baha’i I can be. I’m driven to participate in the community building process.
The thesaurus lists the following synonyms related to being driven:
The problem with this addiction is that it’s praised in our materialistic society, and with employers more interested in the bottom line and maximizing profits at the expense of their employees, many of us are unwittingly caught up in this behaviour.
At the root of being driven is a mistaken belief that:
- No one will love me for who I am. I have to earn their love
- Someone always has something better and I have to have what they have, and more
- I have to find a solution to all my own problems
- I have to take responsibility for things that aren’t mine to take on
- I did something to deserve abuse, bullying, humiliation, rejection, disapproval etc.
- I have to do everything right, all the time, to be number 1. Nothing else is acceptable.
- I have to be a “somebody” to be accepted.
- The only way to survive a broken heart is to get busy.
Fear is at the root of it all. In my case, it’s:
- Fear of letting go – who will I be if I’m not driven?
- Fear of poverty – who will I be if I’m fired or take time off for disability, or declare bankruptcy?
- An overwhelming disappointment in this life and wanting to do everything in my power to earn “spiritual brownie points” so I can secure a better place in the next world
- Feeling guilty for not doing enough for the Faith and being judged by the Institutions
I had to learn that being asked by representatives of the Institutions to do something is not necessarily the voice of God. I could be driven towards people pleasing, wanting to be seen and judged by others as a “good Baha’i”.
God doesn’t want us to seek the approval of others, though. ‘Abdu’l-Baha is reported to have said:
To be approved of God alone should be one’s aim. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 6, No. 6, p. 44)
. . . at all times seeking the approval of men is many times the cause of imperiling the approval of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, June 24, 1915)
Even if we let go of the need to seek the approval of others, there are pressures coming from the goals of the 5-Year plan, especially at a time when the workers are so few and we’re being called on to make a “herculean effort.”
I wonder if being driven is from God, though. Somehow I doubt it.
Bahá’u’lláh tells us:
In all circumstances they should conduct themselves with moderation. (Bahá’u’lláh, Lights of Guidance, p. 294)
Overstep not the bounds of moderation. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 235)
Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 216)
So what is moderation and how do we achieve it? This is a question I’ve taken to the Writings. Come along with me as I see what I can learn.
What I’ve Learned About Being Driven:
First of all, this quote got my attention!
Ambitions are an abomination before the Lord. (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West – 4)
So not only are we NOT to push ourselves towards our goals, we aren’t to have ambitions in the first place!
Drivenness is a lack of awareness of God in that moment, and a belief that I have to push on with a task, regardless of the cost to self and family. It’s easy in the Faith, at this period in history when the workers are so few and the tasks requiring a “herculean effort”, to give everything we’ve got and more, and to believe we can’t say no, when an Institution asks us to give even more. Instead of asking God what He wants us to do, we assume we know the answer from reading the recent letters of the House of Justice. The problem is, we may be applying the wrong remedy! Although insulin and penicillin are both valuable medications, each has to be applied to the right ailment at the right time.
Many workaholics do tasks that are not necessarily theirs to do. They may feel absolutely responsible for something, but inadequate to do it and/or unwilling or unable to delegate or ask for help. They can be hard on themselves for not being able to do it all, or as well as they would like. They blame themselves and feel guilty and ashamed and don’t know why, because in their minds, they believe they are doing all the right things.
The paradox is that we’re hard on ourselves because we know we have to follow the current guidance from the House of Justice, and when others aren’t stepping up to the plate, we do more and more and eventually burn out.
For example, here’s something I wrote about 3 years ago:
I totally understand and see the vision of the House of Justice, in which we do the core activities in our own neighborhoods as a way to build communities. I want to be part of the process but my passion lies in researching the practical application of the Writings to everyday problems, and making this information available to others through books and my blog. Even though I’m having several devotional gatherings with others over the phone; and tutoring 3 Ruhi Books over the phone, and supporting others who are animators and children’s class teachers, over the phone, I feel hugely guilty that I’m not doing it in my own cluster. Surely God sees my efforts as “enough”, yet my guilt has driven me to do more.
Recently, a member of the Institute Board told me that community building was the role of the Institutions and not the responsibility of the individual. It was a huge relief!
Also, God never asks us to carry anyone else’s responsibilities. As the House of Justice said in its Ridvan Message of 2014: “Everyone has a share in this enterprise; the contribution of each serves to enrich the whole.”
If I’m trying to fill someone else’s role because they are inactive, I don’t have time to fill my own.
Finding this quote really got my attention!
No good but only evil can come from taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go regardless of the clear texts and our own limitations. It is His Cause. He has promised that its light will not fail. Our part is to cling tenaciously to the revealed word and to the institutions that He has created to preserve His Covenant.’ (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 119)
YIKES! “only evil can come from taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go regardless of our own limitations”! That’s exactly what I was doing!
But as a workaholic, it was one thing to leave the community building to the institutions and another to know what moderation looked like. I had to ask myself – when working full time on my business, is tutoring 3 study circles; holding devotional gatherings and accompanying others excessive? Or is it applying a “herculean effort”? I didn’t know, until I carefully studied the second half of this quote: my job is to “cling tenaciously to the revealed word and to the institutions.”
Recently, I joined Workaholics Anonymous who gave me the 3 R’s as a standard: In addition to working (and service), I need to spend equal amounts of time on Rest, Relaxation and Relationship Building.
So which “revealed word” can help shed some light on my need for rest, relaxation and relationship building?
Recently at a Baha’i Conference, we looked at this quote, where Shoghi Effendi told us:
…you should not neglect your health, but consider it the means which enables you to serve. It — the body . . . should be well cared for so it can do its work! You should certainly safeguard your nerves, and force yourself to take time, and not only for prayer and meditation, but for real rest and relaxation. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 297)
It was a real “aha” moment for me. I felt that Shoghi Effendi really understood me, when he said I should “force myself to take time for real rest and relaxation”! That’s what it will take! A force of willpower and a herculean effort, because I don’t know when or how to stop the work and service I enjoy doing.
That takes care of 2 of the 3 R’s right there! That’s a quote I can cling to tenaciously.
But how does an introvert like me go about building relationships when I have no ties to my biological family or a spouse? Home visits and elevated conversations with like-minded people seem to be clues, but only if these activities aren’t coming from a place of “should” and only if they lead to real rest and relaxation. I think that’s a topic for another day!
The good news is, even with a society that promotes workaholism, we can overcome it and not live in drivenness, constantly trying to measure up to someone else’s standard. God knows what we need and will provide everything we need, if only we remember to ask.
What’s your experience with drivenness? Post your comments below.
Recently I came across this quote which made me sit up and take notice:
Take heed that your . . . deeds be cleansed from craftiness and suspicion. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 138)
It made me wonder – what deeds of mine are stained with suspicion. I’m sure I have some, but I couldn’t think of any in the moment, so I did what I love to do best – took the question to the Writings, to see if I could learn more about how suspicion is used in the Bahá’í teachings.
How is Suspicion Described?
As a characteristic of a decadent society:
. . . the increasing evidences of selfishness, of suspicion, of fear and of fraud; the spread of terrorism . . . of drunkenness and of crime; the unquenchable thirst for, and the feverish pursuit after, earthly vanities, riches and pleasures; the weakening of family solidarity; the laxity in parental control; the lapse into luxurious indulgence; the irresponsible attitude towards marriage and the consequent rising tide of divorce . . . these appear as the outstanding characteristics of a decadent society, a society that must either be reborn or perish. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 237)
What are the Effects?
Suffering for millions of human beings:
But in our concern for such immediate obvious calls upon our succour we must not allow ourselves to forget the continuing, appalling burden of suffering under which millions of human beings are always groaning — a burden which they have bourne for century upon century and which it is the Mission of Bahá’u’lláh to lift at last. The principal cause of this suffering, which one can witness wherever one turns, is the corruption of human morals and the prevalence of prejudice, suspicion, hatred, untrustworthiness, selfishness and tyranny among men. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 122)
How Does it Manifest?
Creating the suspicion of secrecy on behalf of the Assemblies:
Theirs is the duty to purge once for all their deliberations and the general conduct of their affairs from . . . the suspicion of secrecy . . . between them on one hand and all local Assemblies and individual believers on the other. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahai Administration, p. 81)
Is Suspicion Ever Warranted?
At the same time, we are also cautioned to be on guard when dealing with people from the East:
… the Guardian wishes the Bahá’í to bear in mind the repeated counsels of the Master that the friends should be on their guard when dealing with Easterners. Not only should they trust no one unless he bears some letter of introduction from his Assembly but also after he is permitted in the Bahá’í group they should be very careful in their dealings with him. This does not mean that they should be unkind to him or have a constant suspicion that would gradually alienate him from the Cause, but to be on their guard lest he misuses their trust. The case of Ahmad Sohrab is a very good example of what an Easterner can do. He thinks to be doing shrewd business when a Westerner would consider the act to be deceitful. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 428)
But, as the people of the West are still children in the Cause and have not perfect knowledge of its reality and validity, the nakazeen thought it to be an easy prey and availed themselves of this opportunity for laying doubts and suspicions, speaking false words, divulging seditious calumnies among the people. Ye shall see all this as scattered dust, and all these thick, dark clouds which were gathered in those far regions, will disappear and the Sun of Certainty and Reality shall shine with the Most Dazzling Light; the darkness will vanish, the firm believers will be in great joy, and the nakazeen shall be in evident loss. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 439-440)
I have expounded these things for you, for the conservation and protection of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, in order that you may be informed, lest any souls shall deceive you and lest any souls shall cause suspicion among you. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 323-324)
Where Does Suspicion Do the Most Harm?
A reversal of this tendency is not easily achievable, but the Bahá’í friends must be freed of suspicion towards their institutions if the wheels of progress are to turn with. (NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)
How to Overcome Suspicion
Dispel and annihilate the darkness of suspicions:
Now know you these things], that in its time you may dispel and annihilate the darkness of those suspicions, like unto a manifest light. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 252)
Cleanse the heart of suspicion and fill it with hope, faith and love:
With hearts cleansed from the least trace of suspicion and filled with hope and faith in what the spirit of love can achieve, we must one and all endeavor at this moment to forget past impressions, and with absolute good-will and genuine cooperation unite in deepening and diffusing the spirit of love and service that the Cause has thus far so remarkably shown to the world. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 17)
Develop love and harmony within our own characters:
Aside from teaching the Cause, the greatest service the Bahá’í Youth can render is to exemplify in their lives the teachings and especially to be promoters — within the Bahá’í communities and in the world at large — of love and harmony, qualities so sadly lacking in these days of hatred, suspicion, vindictiveness and prejudice. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 432)
Look upon Bahá’ís with trust and affection:
Let Bahá’í scholars look upon their fellow Bahá’ís with trust and affection, not with disdain as to their qualifications and suspicion as to their motives. Let them regard them as devoted Bahá’ís striving to perform a service which the policies of the Faith require of them. And let them not hesitate to discuss openly with such reviewers the points which they raise. If it appears that a National Spiritual Assembly does not permit such open discussion, let them appeal to the Universal House of Justice for clarification of the situation. It is well understood by the Universal House of Justice that in some cases the process of review works inefficiently and with problems. These deficiencies could be overcome if the scholars themselves would collaborate with the process and openly raise questions about its functioning, rather than fostering an atmosphere of antagonism and mutual mistrust.
(The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)
Have a tranquil heart:
If the heart becometh absolutely tranquil, suspicion and imagination will entirely pass away. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 104)
Make sure your deeds are cleansed of suspicion:
Take heed that your words be purged from idle fancies and worldly desires and your deeds be cleansed from craftiness and suspicion. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 138)
Develop the capacity of detecting good vs. evil people:
As Bahá’u’lláh says often in His Tablets the friends should develop a flair wherewith they can detect the good from the evil person. Mere name of Bahá’í does not constitute a Bahá’í. His character also has to be Bahá’í. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 428)
Establish the reality of the Faith of God:
. . . they will rather be moved by it to pursue their investigations and inquiries with greater meticulousness and enthusiasm . . . to put to rout the hosts of suspicion, doubt and misconception; to raze to its foundations the edifice of calumny and falsehood; and to demonstrate and establish, before the eyes of all the world, the sacred, exalted and indomitable reality of the resistless Faith of God. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 174)
How Do We Deal with Other People’s Suspicions?
Be assured, turn to God and seek confirmations:
Clothe thyself with the cuirass of assurance, so that thou mayest endure the arrows of suspicion which are successively pouring from the tongues of the heedless ones. Be a lamp, the light of which may dispel the darkness, and a real standard which may remove the doubts of the veiled people. Turn thou unto the Kingdom of thy Lord, the Ancient, and seek for confirmation at every moment and time, so that lights may shine forth unto thee from the kingdom of mysteries, and the angels of the Kingdom may come unto thee in succession, with a power from the Realm of Might. Verily, thy Lord shall assist thee and strengthen thee in that whereby thy breast will be dilated among the maid-servants of the Merciful One! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 599-600)
I loves this story told by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, which sums up what we’ve been learning:
I had a servant who was black; his name was Isfandiyar. If a perfect man could be found in the world, that man was Isfandiyar. He was the essence of love, radiant with sanctity and perfection, luminous with light.
Whenever I think of Isfandiyar, I am moved to tears, although he passed away fifty years ago. He was the faithful servant of Bahá’u’lláh and was entrusted with His secrets. For this reason the Shah of Persia wanted him and inquired continually as to his whereabouts.
Bahá’u’lláh was in prison, but the Shah had commanded many persons to find Isfandiyar. Perhaps more than one hundred officers were appointed to search for him. If they had succeeded in catching him, they would not have killed him at once. They would have cut his flesh into pieces to force him to tell them the secrets of Bahá’u’lláh.
But Isfandiyar with the utmost dignity used to walk in the streets and bazaars. One day he came to us.
My mother, my sister and myself lived in a house near a corner. Because our enemies frequently injured us, we were intending to go to a place where they did not know us. I was a child at that time.
At midnight Isfandiyar came in. My mother said, “O Isfandiyar, there are a hundred policemen seeking for you. If they catch you, they will not kill you at once but will torture you with fire. They will cut off your fingers. They will cut off your ears. They will put out your eyes to force you to tell them the secrets of Bahá’u’lláh. Go away! Do not stay here.”
He said, “I cannot go because I owe money in the street and in the stores. How can I go? They will say that the servant of Bahá’u’lláh has bought and consumed the goods and supplies of the storekeepers without paying for them. Unless I pay all these obligations, I cannot go.
But if they take me, never mind. If they punish me, there is no harm in that. If they kill me, do not be grieved. But to go away is impossible. I must remain until I pay all I owe. Then I will go.”
For one month Isfandiyar went about in the streets and bazaars. He had things to sell, and from his earnings he gradually paid his creditors. In fact, they were not his debts but the debts of the court, for all our properties had been confiscated. Everything we had was taken away from us. The only things that remained were our debts. Isfandiyar paid them in full; not a single penny remained unpaid. Then he came to us, said good-bye and went away. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 426-427)
What’s been your experience with suspicion? Post your comments below.
Recently I was following a discussion on self-esteem on a Baha’i forum. As someone who suffers from low self-esteem, I was particularly interested in the discussion, hoping to find a Baha’i-inspired way to overcome this problem. I was disappointed to see the tone of the discussion, which was largely dismissive.
One contributor said:
The first thing that came to mind was ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s breakdown of the four different kinds of love:
- God’s love for us
- our love for God
- God’s love towards Her Self
- our love for our fellow human beings
At no time does The Master mention the spiritual validity or even the existence of a fifth kind of love, namely a human being’s love for oneself. Nonetheless, self-love has become an insanely successful commodity. Why?
This certainly made me think!
In the Secret of Divine Civilization (p.96-97), ‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us both:
…self-love is kneaded into the very clay of man ….
The heart is a divine trust; cleanse it from the stain of self-love.
All of this made me start to meditate on this question: Is there a healthy form of “self-love” from a Baha’i perspective?
Contributor 2 suggested:
- There’s wisdom in knowing ourselves. And not just the Eternal, the Perfect, but also our flaws and foibles.
It reminded me of this quote:
The first Taraz and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 34)
Contributor 3 suggested:
- One theory is that individuals who have been abused – particularly by someone in a position of authority – have a deep mistrust of this parent-like God who resides outside them. These abuses need not even be direct; simple exposure to the dysfunction of the crumbling Age may lead to the same kinds of fears. Arguably, in this Day of corrupt governments, sexually predatory clergy members and vile human rights abuses, it may be unrealistic to expect the majority of people not to be deeply suspicious of an authoritative God who expresses Her will via Institutions and Laws, no matter how lovingly She is characterised. Perhaps at this point in the process, self-esteem aids serve a vital purpose for those individuals who have been so damaged that their healing requires they learn how to love the God within before they can even conceive of obeying a God without.
This article elaborates on this theme a little more:
The Role of Parents in Training us to be Obedient
Contributor 4 suggested:
- It would seem to me that the Baha’i Faith is encouraging us to focus on “God love” rather than “self-love”. The most effective and safest way to love ourselves is to love the image of God that is potentially reflected in the reality of our true identity which is the soul.
This reminded me of the Hidden Word which says:
All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words, 27)
Contributor 5 suggested:
- The self-esteem industry consists of two broad streams: self-healing and self-improvement. Though it occasionally touches on notions of surrender and service, the latter tends to revolve around the cult of more; how to get more rich, more attractive, more employable, more…more. It’s the saddest kind of irony as studies upon studies have disproved the myth that acquiring more things equals acquiring more happiness – or as the ads imply, more ‘self-esteem.’ The first stream though, that of purchasable ‘healing,’ is the one that I believe offers the most insight to a Baha’i looking to assist a struggling brother or sister. What we need to ask ourselves is why. Why is this route so popular? Why do people feel more comfortable paying thousands of hard-earned dollars for guidance on how to commune with the Divine within, rather than acquiescing to a God found outside themselves (for example, in Holy Writings and Institutions), as well as within?
This got me thinking about our purpose of life, which is to know and worship God (not ourselves), and the best way to achieve that is to pray and read the Writings morning and night, and to participate in the core activities, which exposes us to the transformative Word of God, which can recreate us.
Contributor 6 suggested:
- We really are powerless! In the short obligatory prayer, we remind ourselves daily: “I testify at this moment to my powerlessness and to Thy might”. This frees us from the delusion that we’re any different from anyone else, specifically more damaged or less ‘spiritually evolved’ than anyone else.
Contributor 7 suggested:
- My experience of America culture is that we are now living under a “self-esteem” regime where “feeling good” has become more important than “doing good”. The line between self-love and selfishness is not a bright and well-lit highway, but is more like a spider’s web in a dark attic.It reminded me of these quotes:
If man be imbued with all good qualities but be selfish, all the other virtues will fade or pass away and eventually he will grow worse. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 136)
But if he show the slightest taint of selfish desires and self-love, his efforts will lead to nothing and he will be destroyed and left hopeless at the last. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 71)
It may be helpful to understand the two ways that “self” or “ego” is understood in the Baha’i Writings as explained by Shoghi Effendi.
Regarding the questions you asked: self has really two meanings, or is used in two senses, in the Bahá’í writings; one is self, the identity of the individual created by God. This is the self mentioned in such passages as “he hath known God who hath known himself”, etc. The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.
Contributor 8 suggested:
- I’ve also noticed that having an ongoing negative mental conversation about one’s flaws, faults, and failings doesn’t seem to be conducive towards joy, kindness, appreciation, and treating others with love and serving humanity. Consequently, I’m starting to let go of excessive criticism of my own failures. And that seems to be leading towards an improvement in my overall ability to “live the life”.
It reminds me of this quote:
He urges you to persevere and add up your accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. Everyone’s life has both a dark and bright side. The Master said: turn your back to the darkness and your face to Me. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 457)
Contributor 9 suggested:
- I find it helpful to think of how ‘Abdu’l-Baha was. For Baha’is He is the perfect Exemplar of how we should be and live. His whole being was suffused with the love of God, so He was able to love all those He met without any hint of self-interest or self-love.
According to the Bahá’í Writings, self-love is kneaded into the very clay of our beings and we need to cleanse our hearts from its stain. In order to do it we need to know ourselves well enough to recognize what leads us to loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. The easiest way to do this is to make the love of God so strong in our hearts, that there is no room for anything else.
The negative mental conversations we have about our flaws, faults, and failings leads to our abasement. If we want to be happy and joyful servants and teachers of the Faith, we need to treat ourselves with as much kindness, appreciation, and love as we would treat other people. We need to turn our back on our failings and our face to God.
How do we do it?
- We remember that our purpose of life is to know and worship God (not ourselves). The best way to achieve that is to pray and read the Writings morning and night, and to participate in the core activities, which exposes us to the transformative Word of God, which can recreate us.
- Our parents have a role in educating us spiritually, but if we’ve been abused, it may be more difficult. Nevertheless, we remember we are all powerless. In the short obligatory prayer, we remind ourselves daily: “I testify at this moment to my powerlessness and to Thy might”. This frees us from the delusion that we’re any different from anyone else, specifically more damaged or less ‘spiritually evolved’ than anyone else.
- We follow the example of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, whose whole being was suffused with the love of God, so He was able to love all those He met without any hint of self-interest or self-love.
If we aren’t able to do this, our efforts will lead to nothing and we will be destroyed and left hopeless.
How has this helped you in your understanding of raising your self-esteem? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please post below.
How do we overcome this cultural past-time?
As with many things, deeds not words are what is required:
However, deprivation of voting rights is usually of little help in such circumstances and should be resorted to only after other remedies have been tried and failed . . . Rash action can dampen the zeal of the community, and this must be avoided at all costs. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 60)
We’re asked to refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causes sadness in men:
Verily I say, the tongue is for mentioning what is good, defile it not with unseemly talk. God hath forgiven what is past. Henceforward everyone should utter that which is meet and seemly, and should refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men. Lofty is the station of man! (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 219-220)
A silent tongue is the safest:
A silent tongue is the safest. Even good may be harmful, if spoken at the wrong time, or to the wrong person. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 125)
If the situation is not serious, we should ignore it:
Sometimes, however, the matter does not seem grave enough to warrant reporting to the Spiritual Assembly, in which case it may be best to ignore it altogether. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
‘Abdu’l-Baha longed to see us use our lips in praise of others instead:
I hope that the believers of God will shun completely backbiting, each one praising the other cordially. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)
One must expose the praiseworthy qualities of the souls and not their evil attributes. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)
If some means were devised so that the doors of backbiting were shut eternally and each one of the believers unsealed his lips in praise of others. (’Abdu’l-Baha, Star of West, Vol. IV. p. 192)
We must overlook people’s shortcomings and faults and speak only of their virtues:
The friends must overlook their shortcomings and faults and speak only of their virtues and not their defects. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)
We must think of our own imperfections and try to remove them:
On no subject are the Bahá’í teachings more emphatic than on the necessity to abstain from fault-finding and backbiting while being ever eager to discover and root out our own faults and overcome our own failings. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 88)
In ‘Star of the West’, Volume 8, No. 10, on page 138, there is a record of a reply given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in a private interview in Paris in 1913. He was asked ‘How shall I overcome seeing the faults of others — recognizing the wrong in others?’, and He replied: ‘I will tell you. Whenever you recognize the fault of another, think of yourself! What are my imperfections? — and try to remove them. Do this whenever you are tried through the words or deeds of others. Thus you will grow, become more perfect. You will overcome self, you will not even have time to think of the faults of others.’ (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
The task of perfecting our own life and character is one that requires all our attention, our will-power and energy:
Each of us is responsible for one life only, and that is our own. Each of us is immeasurably far from being ‘perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect’ and the task of perfecting our own life and character is one that requires all our attention, our will- power and energy. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)
I love this analogy – If we allow our attention and energy to be taken up in efforts to keep others right and remedy their faults, our own furrow will assuredly become crooked:
If we allow our attention and energy to be taken up in efforts to keep others right and remedy their faults, we are wasting precious time. We are like ploughmen each of whom has his team to manage and his plough to direct, and in order to keep his furrow straight he must keep his eye on his goal and concentrate on his own task. If he looks to this side and that to see how Tom and Harry are getting on and to criticize their ploughing, then his own furrow will assuredly become crooked. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)
Here’s a story of how ‘Abdu’l-Baha helped someone overcome the things she’d said about her worst enemy:
A woman went to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, received His teachings and blessings, and asked for a special work. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, ‘Spread the law of love. Live in accord with love, reciprocity and cooperation.’ She answered, ‘I want something special. All Baha’is are asked to do this.’ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá answered, ‘Very well. Come tomorrow morning, when you are about to leave, and I will give you the special work.’ She was very happy all that day and night, in anticipation. The next day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said to her, ‘I am going to give you my son that you may educate him physically, mentally and spiritually.’ She was surprised, and was made happy at this. But her surprise gave way to wonder when she reflected that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had no son. What could He mean? ‘Abdu’l-Bahá asked, ‘Do you know this son of mine?’ Then He told her: In her city there had lived a man, her worst enemy. He had died leaving a son, who no one to take care of him: this was now her task. When she heard this she was overwhelmed. She was spiritually reborn. She wept and said, ‘My Master, I now know what the Baha’i Cause means.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 106)
When We Hear Others Gossiping
Justice requires we do our own investigation; seeing with our own eyes and knowing through our own knowledge, instead of relying on others:
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 2)
We should ignore it:
Ignoring gossip and slander is a positive, constructive and healing action helpful to the community, the gossiper and to the persons slandered. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
We should close our ears to it:
You must not listen to anyone speaking about another, because no sooner do you listen than you must listen to someone else and thus the circle will be enlarged endlessly. (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Ramleh, Egypt, 29 October 1913, Star of the West – 4, p. 104)
We should tactfully but firmly prevent others from making accusations or complaints against others in our presence:
We should therefore, as tactfully as possible, but yet firmly, do our utmost to prevent others from making accusations or complaints against others in our presence. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 93)
When we hear gossip and backbiting, we can stop the discussion in a friendly manner, with questions such as:
- Would this detraction serve any useful purpose?
- Would it please the Blessed Beauty?
- Would it contribute to the lasting honour of the friends?
- Would it promote the holy Faith?
- Would it support the covenant?
- Would it be of any possible benefit to any soul?
If any individual should speak ill of one who is absent, it is incumbent on his hearers, in a spiritual and friendly manner, to stop him, and say in effect: would this detraction serve any useful purpose? Would it please the Blessed Beauty, contribute to the lasting honour of the friends, promote the holy Faith, support the covenant, or be of any possible benefit to any soul? No, never! On the contrary, it would make the dust to settle so thickly on the heart that the ears would hear no more, and the eyes would not longer behold the light of truth. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)
We could tactfully draw the offender’s attention to the teachings on the subject:
Or perhaps the relationship is such that he can tactfully draw the offender’s attention to the teachings on the subject — but here he must be very careful not to give the impression of prying into a fellow-believer’s private affairs or of telling him what he must do, which would not only be wrong in itself but might well produce the reverse of the desired reaction. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
We could tactfully draw the offender into Bahá’í activities hoping that as his knowledge of the teachings and awareness of the Faith deepens, he will spontaneously improve his patterns of conduct:
There are also other things that can be done by the Bahá’í to whose notice such things come. For example he could foster friendly relations with the individual concerned, tactfully drawing him into Bahá’í activities in the hope that, as his knowledge of the teachings and awareness of the Faith deepens, he will spontaneously improve his patterns of conduct. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
We can always consult our LSA or Auxiliary Board member for advice:
If a believer faced with knowledge of another Bahá’ís conduct is unsure what course to take, he can, of course, always consult his Local Spiritual Assembly for advice. If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or assistant. Whatever steps are taken, it is vital that the believers refrain from gossip and backbiting, for this can only harm the Faith, causing perhaps more damage than would have been caused by the original offense. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Here are 3 stories of how ‘Abdu’l-Baha showed us how to handle discussions that involve backbiting:
When once someone complained of Lua to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, He turned to the person who had made the criticism and with a benign smile, said, ‘But she loves her Lord.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 164)
Under a grove of trees near Lake Michigan, while in Chicago in 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave intimate and loving counsel to His friends: ‘Some of you may have observed that I have not called attention to any of your individual shortcomings. I would suggest to you, that if you shall be similarly considerate in your treatment of each other, it will be greatly conducive to the harmony of your association with each other.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88)
It is related that His Holiness Christ — May my life be a sacrifice to Him! — one day, accompanied by His apostles, passed by the corpse of a dead animal. One of them said: ‘How putrid has this animal become!’ The other exclaimed: ‘How it is deformed!’ A third cried out: ‘What a stench! How cadaverous looking!’ but His Holiness Christ said: “Look at its teeth! how white they are!’ Consider, that He did not look at all at the defects of that animal; nay, rather, He searched well until He found the beautiful white teeth. He observed only the whiteness of the teeth and overlooked entirely the deformity of the body, the dissolution of its organs and the bad odour. This is the attribute of the children of the Kingdom. This is the conduct and the manner of the real Bahá’ís. I hope that all the believers will attain to this lofty station. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 91)
He stopped the fault-finding by focusing on something positive instead.
‘Abdu’l-Baha also understood those who gossiped, and showered them with love and forgiveness, as these stories illustrate:
That very afternoon, in my room with two of the believers, I spoke against a brother in the truth, finding fault with him, and giving vent to the evil in my own heart by my words . . . A little later we all went to supper, and my hard heart was unconscious of its error, until, as my eyes sought the beloved face of my Master, I met His gaze, so full of gentleness and compassion that I was smitten to the heart. For in some marvellous way His eyes spoke to me; in that pure and perfect mirror I saw my wretched self and burst into tears. He took no notice of me for a while and everyone kindly continued with the supper while I sat in His dear Presence washing away some of my sins in tears. After a few moments He turned and smiled on me and spoke my name several times as though He were calling me to Him. In an instant such sweet happiness pervaded my soul, my heart was comforted with such infinite hope, that I knew He would cleanse me of all of my sins.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 63)
We began to argue about the New York Assembly: as to whether or not it was united! Mr Kinney declared that it was. I said it was not. I even went so far as to mention the breeder of the discord, to condemn her destructive work! But when X and I crept off to the room we were temporarily occupying — crept through the black, vaulted halls and rooms, over the old stone floors, to the rear wing of the house — a feeling of guilt such as I could hardly bear consumed me. Next morning when I met our Lord outside the dining room door, in the sunny little court I so love because it is associated with His footsteps, with the benediction of His Presence, looking with eyes that … forgave? … no, that understood … deep, deep into my eyes, He put out His hand and took mine in a clasp of love. (Diary of Juliet Thompson)
Who Can Help?
As with everything in the Faith, we need all 3 protagonists – the individual, the community and the Institutions.
First, as individuals, we need to really study the Writings and become peacemakers:
What the believers need is not only … to really study the teachings, but also to have more peace-makers circulating among them. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
The the older and the more mature Bahá’ís can help the weaker ones to function and live like true believers:
It is one of the functions of the older and the more mature Bahá’ís, to help the weaker ones to iron out their difficulties and learn to really function and live like true believers! (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
The NSA could provide for the proper deepening of the friends to instill in them a respect for Bahá’í laws:
We think it would be much better for the National Assembly to provide for the proper deepening of the friends and in a loving and patient manner attempt to instill in them a respect for Bahá’í laws. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 60)
How has this helped you understand this topic better? Post your comments below!
The Baha’i Writings are clear on this point – backbiting is the worst human quality and the “most great sin”.
The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 88)
So if there is one fault we need to most focus on, this would be a great place to start!
But what about news reporting? Where does that fit?
Recently one of my readers wrote:
One topic of the Baha’i Faith that has really shown its power to me, is the concept of refraining from backbiting. Sometimes it can seem so innocent, but even so, look how much damage it can do!
I am currently stuck on a topic that I find hard to understand. I’ll give an example. As you no doubt know, there was a Mayor of a large city who was videotaped doing crack cocaine. The local newspaper reported it; the story went viral and the city was made a laughing-stock!
Of course it was true, but was it backbiting? After all, the Mayor did use drugs in his own private time, not during his duties as a mayor. But to most voters, a mayor isn’t someone who just does their job, but a role model in the community. We want our Mayor to be someone whom their children can look up to.
Is there any guidance on where to draw the line on backbiting? Also, is this an example of backbiting? The local newspaper brought something to people’s attention with the intent of providing transparency into the character of a mayor, knowing full well that the consequences would be damaging to his person.
I personally believe, that what newspaper did was – OK to a large extent. Putting forward facts (while it can be damaging to someone) should not be considered backbiting, if it is done openly which they did. It gave the Mayor a chance to come clean and it informed the citizens of the character of the person they elected. I read all the stuff there is on backbiting, but haven’t found anything YET that talks about backbiting vs news reporting.
In a Bahá’í world, which we are all working towards, I think the spiritual principal that applies in this situation is contained in these quotes:
O SON OF MAN!
Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 27)
The condemnation of backbiting could hardly be couched in stronger language!
Bahá’u’lláh says in Hidden Words; ‘Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command ACCURSED ARE THOU.’ The condemnation of backbiting could hardly be couched in stronger language than in these passages, and it is obviously one of the foremost obligations for Bahá’ís to set their faces against this practice. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 87)
Baha’u’llah is pretty clear on this matter! If we can’t breathe the sins of another, one to one, how much more damaging are the effects when the whole world is privy to our faults via the news? And do we as individuals or as reporters really want to be “accursed of God”?
Shoghi Effendi clarifies that even if what is said is true the mentioning of faults to others still comes under the category of backbiting:
The condemnation of backbiting could hardly be couched in stronger language than in these passages, and it is obviously one of the foremost obligations for Bahá’ís to set their faces against this practice. Even if what is said against another person be true, the mentioning of his faults to others still comes under the category of backbiting, and is forbidden. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 87)
Stories repeated about others are seldom good:
Remember, above all, the teaching of Bahá’u’lláh concerning gossip and unseemly talk about others. Stories repeated about others are seldom good. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 125)
In a Baha’i world, we’re likely to see only good news stories!
Before we go any further, let’s look at the meaning of the two words, often found together in the Baha’i Writings. The dictionary defines them as follows:
Gossip: talk, chat, conversation, chatter, blather, natter, blabbermouth, tattle, rumourmonger, scandalmonger, tell-tale, bigmouth and hearsay.
Backbiting: vicious, spiteful, unkind remarks, backstabbing, badmouthing and infighting.
So on the one hand, our very conversations with others are laden with gossip, which makes it much harder to identify we’re doing anything wrong. It’s easy to think “I’m not badmouthing anyone”, but if we’re mentioning a fault, it has to stop.
The problem of backbiting is even worse if it comes from the believers of God, who should presumably know better:
As regards backbiting, i.e. discussing the faults of others in their absence, the teachings are very emphatic. In a Tablet to an American friend the Master wrote: ‘The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting, more especially when it emanates from the tongues of the believers of God. (’Abdu’l-Baha, Star of West, Vol. IV. p. 192)
Not only are we supposed to stop backbiting and gossip, we’re supposed to stop listening to it too!
The friends should understand that they should not only cease backbiting and gossiping, but should cease listening to others who fall into this sin. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
When we listen to those who complain about the faults of others, we are guilty of complicity:
It is obvious that if we listen to those who complain to us about the faults of others we are guilty of complicity in their backbiting. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 93)
Exceptions to the Rule
We can turn to our friends to discuss our problems, and seek help and advice in resolving them, as long as we don’t mention names:
You ask in your letter for guidance on the implications of the prohibitions on backbiting and more specifically whether, in moments of anger or depression, the believer is permitted to turn to his friends to unburden his soul and discuss his problem in human relations. Normally, it is possible to describe the situation surrounding a problem and seek help and advice in resolving it, without necessarily mentioning names. The individual believer should seek to do this, whether he is consulting a friend, Bahá’í or non-Bahá’í, or whether the friend is consulting him. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 90)
Taking a problem to an Institution or therapist to seek assistance with a problem is not backbiting – the motive is different:
While gossip and backbiting are explicitly prohibited by Bahá’u’lláh, taking a problem to a Bahá’í institution, to a relevant civil or social service agency, therapist, or counselor to seek assistance with the problem is not viewed as gossip or backbiting. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 55)
If the situation is of such gravity as to endanger the interests of the Faith, the complaint should be submitted to the LSA or to a representative of the institution of the Counsellors:
While it can be a severe test to a Bahá’í to see fellow believers violating Bahá’í laws or engaging in conduct inimical to the welfare and best interests of the Faith, there is no fixed rule that a believer must follow when such conduct comes to his notice. A great deal depends upon the seriousness of the offense and upon the relationship which exists between him and the offender. If the misconduct is blatant and flagrant or threatens the interests of the Faith the believer to whose attention it comes should immediately report it to the Local Spiritual Assembly. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Abdu’l-Bahá does not permit adverse criticism of individuals by name in discussion among the friends, even if the one criticizing believes that he is doing so to protect the interests of the Cause. If the situation is of such gravity as to endanger the interests of the Faith, the complaint, as your National Spiritual Assembly has indicated, should be submitted to the Local Spiritual Assembly, or as you state to a representative of the institution of the Counsellors, for consideration and action. In such cases, of course, the name of the person or persons involved will have to be mentioned. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 90)
Assemblies may appoint counseling committees to determine the best approach:
When necessary, a Spiritual Assembly has the prerogative to appoint individuals or committees to work on its behalf with the friends because it is obviously impossible for the body to meet with every believer on every matter, especially as the membership of the community grows. The Assembly may determine the best approach in each instance in order to ensure it has the necessary information to reach a decision and to satisfy the requirements that each situation presents. As to your questions about the implications of the prohibition on backbiting on the functioning of Spiritual Assemblies and the committees they appoint, it is suggested that you turn to your National Assembly for guidance. (Universal House of Justice, to an individual, 14 June 2016)
None of this is backbiting:
When a friend is reporting to the Assembly on a matter of backbiting in the community, the act in itself is not backbiting. Indeed, the believer is doing his duty by reporting the matter to the Assembly. (Universal House of Justice to a Local Spiritual Assembly, 9 October 1976)
Once it is in the hand of the Assembly the believer’s obligation is discharged and he should do no more than pray for the offender and continue to show him friendship and encouragement:
Once it is in the hand of the Assembly the believer’s obligation is discharged and he should do no more than pray for the offender and continue to show him friendship and encouragement — unless, of course, the Spiritual Assembly asks him to take specific action. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Reasons We Like to Gossip
Because of our immaturity, it seems easier to fall into the pattern we see around us, where gossip, trouble-making and criticism seem easier than the putting into practice virtues such as love, constructive words and cooperation:
Unfortunately, not only average people, but average Bahá’ís, are very immature; gossip, trouble-making, criticism, seem easier than the putting into practice of love, constructive words and cooperation. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
Consequences of Backbiting
It devours and quenches the light of the heart, and extinguishes the life of the soul:
Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 264)
Backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul. (Bahá’u’lláh: The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 193)
It poisons the relationship between people:
For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 264)
We realize that a great problem is presented by gossip when it occurs in Bahá’í communities, and the poison it can instill into the relationship between the friends. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 60)
It’s hard to be a friend to someone when we look at only their faults:
If, however, we look at people from the standpoint of their faults, then being a friend to them is a formidable task. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 168)
We may become dishonored in the community:
. . . believe that backbiting is the cause of Divine Wrath, to such an extent that if a person backbites to the extent of one word, he may become dishonored among all the people, because the most hateful characteristic of man is fault-finding. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)
It strikes at the very unity of the Bahá’í community:
You are quite correct in your understanding of the importance of avoiding backbiting; such conduct strikes at the very unity of the Bahá’í community. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
It causes disputes:
. . . failing in this is a fertile cause of disputes among Bahá’ís as it is among men and women in general. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
It dampens the zeal of the friends and makes them indifferent:
If any soul speak ill of an absent one, the only result will clearly be this: he will dampen the zeal of the friends and tend to make them indifferent. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)
It causes people to withdraw:
For backbiting is divisive, it is the leading cause among the friends of a disposition to withdraw. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)
It can wear us down, as this story how ‘Abdu’l-Baha refrained from backbiting, even when He had a good reason to talk about someone behind His back:
One of those ‘unspiritual people’ was at that moment a member of Abdul-Bahá’s party, Dr. Amin Fareed, who had already tried to fraudulently get money out of her [Phoebe Hearst]. It was probably during ‘Abdul-Bahá’s stay at the Hearst residence that His signet ring disappeared. That theft and some of other activities of Dr. Fareed were described by Marzieh Gail in her book, “Arches of the Years”:
Abdul-Bahá’s signet ring disappeared during his Western journey. The Master had confided His loss to Florence and Khan, and named the thief but He did not wish them to speak of it. We in the family always thought that it took place during his stay at the Hacienda… Thereafter the Master signed all his tablets instead of using a seal, capitalizing neither abdu’l nor abbas but only Bahá.
Fareed’s efforts to destroy the Master (who had seen to his education from childhood) make a page of triple darkness . . . Fareed was capable of whispering to the rich in the United States that although Abdul-Bahá needed funds He would not openly accept them, but if they would pass over the money to him, Fareed, he would deliver it to the Master . . . After returning to the holy land Abdul-Bahá sent Dr. Baghdadi a Tablet, and directed that copies be distributed to every community so that all could read it. The Master wrote here that during his stay in America he had forgiven a certain member of his suite four times, but that he would forgive the man’s misdeeds no longer. Abdul-Bahá returned to Haifa, he proceeded directly to the room with His wife, Munirih Khanum, and said in a feeble voice, “Dr. Fareed has ground me down!” (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 228)
And the effects can last a century:
The force of the former [material fire] lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter[the fire of the tongue] endureth a century. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 264)
Learning not to concern ourselves with the faults of others seems to be one of the most difficult lessons for us to master:
Learning not to concern oneself with the faults of others seems to be one of the most difficult lessons for people to master, and that failing in this is a fertile cause of disputes among Bahá’ís as it is among men and women in general. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
But master it we must if we want to avoid the consequences, and the wrath of God!
Benefits of Overcoming Backbiting
It’s worthwhile overcoming this fault, knowing that our example and spiritual strength really helps the Cause:
In a letter written to an individual believer on behalf of the Guardian it is stated: “If we are better, if we show love, patience, and understanding of the weakness of others, if we seek to never criticize but rather encourage, others will do likewise, and we can really help the Cause through our example and spiritual strength.” (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
Our efforts will be blessed:
How blessed are these aims, especially the prevention of backbiting! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 91)
The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh would be spread and the human world would attain to everlasting felicity:
If some means were devised so that the doors of backbiting could be shut eternally and each one of the believers of God unsealed his tongue in the praise of the other, then the teachings of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh (Bahá’u’lláh) would be spread, the hearts illuminated, the spirits glorified and the human world would attain to everlasting felicity. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 91)
When we see only that which is worthy of praise in every human being, we can be a friend to the whole human race:
One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise. When this is done, one can be a friend to the whole human race. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 168)
A Final Note on Confidentiality
Every believer must know that he can confide a personal problem to an institution of the Faith, with the assurance that knowledge of the matter will remain confidential:
Every believer must know that he can confide a personal problem to an institution of the Faith, with the assurance that knowledge of the matter will remain confidential. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
If a Bahá’í accepts confidential information, he is in duty bound to preserve that confidentiality:
Members of Assemblies, whether they are assistants [to Auxiliary Board members] or not, are obviously in a position to receive confidential information as individuals from several sources. It is an important principle of the Faith that one must not promise what one is not going to fulfill. Therefore, if a Bahá’í accepts confidential information either by virtue of his profession (e.g. as a doctor, a lawyer, etc.), or by permitting another person to confide in him, he is in duty bound to preserve that confidentiality. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Any information which comes to the notice of an Assembly member by reason of his membership on that Assembly must not be divulged by that member, even though the Assembly itself may later decide to share it:
Any information which comes to the notice of an Assembly member, solely by reason of his membership on that Assembly must not be divulged by that member, even though the Assembly itself may later decide to share it. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Assistants have the same duty to observe the confidentiality of its consultations, and of matters considered by the Assembly to be confidential, as does any other member:
Assistants who are members of a National Assembly or a national committee do not function as assistants in relation to that body, and they have the same duty to observe the confidentiality of its consultations, and of matters considered by the Assembly to be confidential, as does any other member. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
If a member of the Assembly knows of a personal problem, and if he has not undertaken to keep it confidential, he may bring it to the Assembly’s attention if he feels it would be in the interests of the Faith for him to do so, but he is not obliged to:
If a member of the Assembly knows of a personal problem, and if he has not undertaken to keep it confidential, he may bring it to the Assembly’s attention if he feels it would be in the interests of the Faith for him to do so, but he is not obliged to. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Every institution in the Faith has certain matters which it considers should be kept confidential, and any member who is privy to such confidential information is obliged to preserve the confidentiality within the institution where he learned it:
Every institution in the Faith has certain matters which it considers should be kept confidential, and any member who is privy to such confidential information is obliged to preserve the confidentiality within the institution where he learned it. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Where no confidentiality is involved the institutions must strive to avoid the stifling atmosphere of secrecy:
Where no confidentiality is involved the institutions must strive to avoid the stifling atmosphere of secrecy. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
The Assembly must carefully consider which information should fall in the category of confidential information; which should not be shared with others, and which may be divulged under special circumstances, and how:
The Assembly must itself carefully consider which information should rightly fall in the category of confidential information and which should not be shared with others, and which information may be divulged under special circumstances, and how such information may be divulged. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Should confidential matters regarding personal problems be freely shared with others, the confidence of the believers in the Assembly and its members will obviously be destroyed:
Should confidential matters regarding personal problems be freely shared with others, upon application, the confidence of the believers in the Assembly and its members will obviously be destroyed. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
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