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Overcoming Backbiting – Changing our Behaviour

 

How do we overcome this cultural past-time?

Just stop!

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!

Understanding Gossip and Backbiting

 

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.

I replied: 

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 Standard

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)

How has this helped you understand the topic better?  Post your comments below!

Backbiting on the Assembly

 

One of my readers wondered:

Would an LSA be backbiting if they discuss the negative qualities of an individual at an LSA meeting when the individual was not present?

Do Assemblies have the right to hear and talk about community members’ negative qualities if the LSA is being asked to make a decision about this member, even when the community member is not present?

Can an Assembly make decisions about community members, by NOT listening to negative reports of bad character traits and praying for guidance instead?

I replied:

First of all, dealing with this issue is working on the spiritual frontier of an Assembly’s growth, and patience is needed as we learn to rise to these challenges:

As you know, there can be many reasons for Assemblies not to respond to the believers. Undoubtedly, in some cases, it is because the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the frontier of their spiritual growth. Such a process can lead to tremendous development on both the individual and the collective levels. Sometimes we can facilitate this process of spiritual growth for individuals, and of maturation for Local and National Assemblies, by viewing these situations not as a problem but as opportunities for development. Taking part in this process should be a source of joy to us since we are, in effect, helping to build the kingdom of God on Earth. Nevertheless, patience is needed, particularly when it involves a subject that is close to our hearts, and when it seems that progress on the matter is lagging or has ceased entirely. We must maintain our confidence that the divinely ordained administrative system given to us by Bahá’u’lláh, and the inspiration of the Creative Word, will enable us to rise to these challenges. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

I’m glad you want to be a peace-maker in your community, helping the weaker members learn to function as true believers:

What the believers need is not only … to really study the teachings, but also to have more peace-makers circulating among them . . . 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)

You are quite correct in your understanding of the importance of avoiding backbiting; since 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)

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. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 83)

This reinforces the role of the Assembly to act as loving parents. If we learn from the example shown by the House of Justice in their letters to individuals, they are always loving and encouraging.

However, learning not to concern oneself with the faults of others seems to be one of the most difficult lessons for people to master, and failing in this is area is a fertile cause of disputes among Bahá’ís, as you’ve discovered!

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)

Unfortunately it seems easier to gossip and criticize than to put into practice 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)

It’s an imperfect eye that beholds imperfections in others:

The imperfect eye beholds imperfections. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 93)

This is the standard we need to reach for:

One must expose the praiseworthy qualities of the souls and not their evil attributes. 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)

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. 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)

Here’s a story of how to apply the standard:

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, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)

In the next quote it looks pretty clear that discussing the faults of others in their absence is forbidden:

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. 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, then the Teachings of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh would spread, the hearts be illumined, the spirits glorified, and the human world would attain to everlasting felicity.’ (Quoted in Star of West, Vol. IV. p. 192) 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. 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)

In the following quote, the position is clear and it doesn’t say there are exceptions to the rule:

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.
(Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words, 27)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá does not permit adverse criticism by name in discussion unless the situation is of such gravity as to endanger the interests of the Faith:

‘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)

Here is a checklist we could all use!

  • 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?

The answer to all of these is No, never!

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! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)

The consequences are clear – it makes the dust to settle so thickly on the heart that the ears would hear no more; the eyes would no longer behold the light of truth; it dampens the zeal of the friends; makes them indifferent; and is the leading reason why the friends withdraw:

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)

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. 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)

Even when an Assembly is dealing with an issue, backbiting causes more damage than the original offence:

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 Bahá’í Communities)

This one seems to have been written just for you, since you are standing for righteousness already!

Beware lest ye give ear to the words of those from whom the foul smell of malice and envy can be discerned; pay no heed to them, and stand ye for righteousness. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 200)

And you are doing your utmost to educate and prevent others from making complaints against others in your presence.

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. 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)

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)

Several weeks later, another reader asked similar questions:

  • Is an Assembly bound by the same prohibition against backbiting as an individual?
  • Can an Assembly discuss an individual who is not present in the room?
  • What are the implications for the Assembly as a Local House of Justice?
  • Would a Local Assembly, National Spiritual Assembly and the Universal House of Justice
  • all use the same guidelines?
  • What is the Assemblies role/responsibility in protection?  (for example in cases of child abuse)
  • If an Assembly is not allowed to make a decision with someone who is not a member in the room – how could it rule on cases concerning individuals (again for example in the case of child abuse or marital disputes)?  Does the Local Assembly actually have the right/responsibility to deal with such issues?

I replied:

Great question!  Thanks for asking!  I’ve done a bit of thinking on this subject already!  You might want to take a look (at what I wrote above)!

While it doesn’t deal specifically with some of the individual questions you ask, it will get you into the ballpark!

Here is the most pertinent answer I’ve been able to find:

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 Bahá’í Communities)

In terms of reporting abuse, these quotes might give you what you’re looking for

I think what I was trying to say (in the article above) and perhaps didn’t do it very well as I’m just thinking on the spot . . .

We live in a society absolutely immersed in backbiting; to the extent that most of us get caught up in it as second nature; and we often don’t examine our participation in it very much, even though we’ve been told:

The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 88)

So since most of us are immature in this way; when we come to Assemblies, we bring this tendency with us, and it’s easy to hide behind our role as Assembly members as permission to engage in backbiting.

I think a much higher spiritual principle is being called on us here.  Perhaps a close study of these quotes on backbiting might result in a fruitful discussion for the Assembly.

Remember, when we come to a Spiritual Assembly meeting, it’s a “spiritual” meeting; not a “problem solving” one; so spiritual principles need to take ascendency.  My hunch is that if whatever issue is before your Assembly now, could be better served if everyone became thoroughly acquainted with the quotes on backbiting; and for the Assembly to attempt to make a decision based on them.  Even though it’s an unusual approach to decision making, I think both individually and as an institution, you’d see tremendous spiritual growth by applying them.

Does this make sense?

Another thing to consider is that the Assembly is called on to be “loving parents”; and we have absolutely no idea what a loving parent would do!

In an ideal world, both parents would consult together and arrive at a decision in unity.

In order for both parents to have the same information, it would be a more effective consultation if they were both present when all the information was gleaned from their wayward child and those who feel wronged by their behaviour.

Many Assemblies appoint counselling committees composed of a small number of Assembly members, and rely on them to give the information to the whole Assembly.  While this might be expedient, surely it’s just another form of backbiting with institutional support!

The following quote suggests that every Assembly member needs to have access to the same information, heard directly from the source, so that they can attain make an informed decision:

O SON OF SPIRIT!

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. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 2)

When every individual Assembly member has heard all the facts, directly from the source, there will be no need for backbiting.  Consultation and decision making done this way will be a lot easier and more effective.

I’d really be interested in continuing a dialogue with you and your Assembly about this; as it’s a very important topic for the whole world!

It may even be time to consult the House of Justice on it!

Hope you find this helpful! I realize most of it talks about individuals; but I believe that it applies to individual Assembly members as well.

How has this been helpful?  What’s been your experience?  What would you add?

 

Gossip and Backbiting in Marriage

 

In this series of articles we’re looking at how the Bahá’í Marriage Vow “We will all verily abide by the Will of God” can help solve the 10 most common marriage problems.  In this article we will explore the topic of gossip and backbiting in marriage.

How often do you hear people talking about their spouse in a negative way?  God doesn’t want us to focus on people’s negative qualities but on their positive.  Again the standard is very high.  If a person has 10 bad qualities and only one good, we’re to focus on the good:

If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, , Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 83)

If we speak about others, we’re to expose only their praiseworthy qualities:

 One must expose the praiseworthy qualities of the souls and not their evil attributes. 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)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá uses a story to show us how to do it:

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, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)

Focusing on faults leads to disputes:

 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)

This gossip and backbiting is referred to as the “most great sin” and “worst human quality”:

 The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 88)

We’re only responsible for our own lives and perfecting our own characters, so this is what we need to focus our attention on:

 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… On no subject are the Bahá’í teachings more emphatic that on the necessity to abstain from fault-finding, while being ever eager to discover and root out our own faults and overcome our own failings.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 90)

When we’re overcome with a need to speak about the faults, we need to turn our attention inward and look towards our own faults.  Others can be a mirror showing us things we can’t otherwise see about ourselves.  I like to think that if I’m pointing a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at me.  It’s a reminder to pay attention to my own faults:

If the fire of self overcome you, remember your own faults and not the faults of My creatures, inasmuch as every one of you knoweth his own self better than he knoweth others.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 66)

When there are problems in a marriage, we’re to take them to God and not speak of them to others:

 However, relying upon God, we conducted ourselves with the utmost patience and submission, resignation and calmness; so much that if one did not know anything about these matters, he would have thought that we were in perfect ease of soul, enjoying the tranquility of heart mind, and were engaged in happiness and felicity.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 45)

If you’re having trouble inside your marriage, it’s important to speak of it with a trusted counsellor.  This is not considered gossip since the motive is to find a solution and not to destroy someone’s character:

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).

There is a clear distinction between, on the one hand, the prohibition of backbiting, which would include adverse comments about individuals or institutions made to other individuals privately or publicly, and, on the other hand, the encouragement to unburden oneself of one’s concerns to a Spiritual Assembly, Local or National (or now, also, to confide in a Counsellor or Auxiliary Board member). (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

It’s often possible to talk about the issue without mentioning the person’s name:

 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)

For more information please see:

Role Confusion 

Money 

Sex 

In-laws and Children

Communication 

Spending Time Together

Love and Effort 

Unresolved Baggage from Childhood

For more on this topic, please see:

Introduction to Marriage Vows

We Will All Verily Abide by the Will of God

Sex Before Marriage 

Sex Inside Marriage 

Using the Year of Patience 

 How has this helped you understand God’s will in terms of gossiping about your spouse?  Post your comments here:

 

 

A Story about Gossip

The Bahá’í Writings teach:

Backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 265)

In a Bahá’í-inspired life coaching call tonight, we had a long talk about the effects of gossip and backbiting in a community, and what my client could do to help people understand its effects.  I thought of this story – one of my son’s favorites, and mine too.  Hope you find it helpful.

A woman repeated a bit of gossip about a neighbor. Within a few days the whole community knew the story. The person it concerned was deeply hurt and offended. Later the woman responsible for spreading the rumor learned that it was completely untrue. She was very sorry and went to a wise old sage to find out what she could do to repair the damage.

“Go to the marketplace,” he said, “and purchase a chicken, and have it killed. Then on your way home, pluck its feathers and drop them one by one along the road.”

Although surprised by this advice, the woman did what she was told.  The next day the wise man said, “Now go and collect all those feathers you dropped yesterday and bring them back to me.

” The woman followed the same road, but to her dismay, the wind had blown the feathers all away. After searching for hours, she returned with only three in her hand. “You see,” said the old sage, “it’s easy to drop them, but it’s impossible to get them back.

So it is with gossip. It doesn’t take much to spread a rumor, but
once you do, you can never completely undo the wrong.”

Author Unknown
http://www.olivebranch.com/thoughts/gossip.htm

What have been your experiences with gossip and backbiting?  Post your comments here: