What is Fault-Finding, Blame and Accusation?
Let’s start with a quote from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
The Cause of God hath never had any place for denouncing others as infidel or profligate, nor hath it allowed anyone to humiliate or belittle another. Contend and wrangle not with any man, and seek ye not the abasement of any soul. Disparage not anyone’s name, and wish no harm upon anyone. Defile not your tongues with calumny, and engage ye not in backbiting. Lift not the veil from the doings of others, and so long as a person professeth to be steadfast, remonstrate not with him, nor expose him. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, provisional translation quoted in the Universal House of Justice, 2001 Apr 18, Clarification of Various Issues Raised by Provisional Translations, p. 2)
Fault-finding is defined as petty or nagging criticism, which can include the following synonyms: Hair-splitting, hard to please, hypercritical, nagging, niggling, nit-picking, quibbling, acrimonious, cantankerous, contrary, crabby, cross, demanding, disparaging, exacting, finicky, irritable, peevish, perverse, petulant, sarcastic, testy, touchy, pick holes in, show disapproval with the lifting of an eyebrow, sceptical, put off, exaggerated, focus on shortcomings. It could include:
- Someone removed from a given situation who thinks he could do a better job of directing it than those actually in charge.
- A giver of unsolicited advice or criticism
- One who tries to direct a situation which is not his responsibility and over which he has no real control (back seat driver)
- One who criticizes the actions or decisions of others after the fact, and uses hindsight to offer his opinions on what should have been done. (“You should have . . .”)
- One who destroys the credibility or reputation of another
- One who blames someone else for a failing of which he is also, and usually more, guilty (usually implies the presence of an unjustified holier-than-thou attitude on the part of the accuser as in “the pot calling the kettle black”).
When I first started looking at this material, I didn’t think I was a “fault-finder”, but then when I looked at some of the synonyms, I began to cringe. Two things stood out:
1. Showing disapproval with the lifting of an eyebrow was how I parented my son, to prevent myself from perpetrating the physical abuse done to me as a child. He called it my “owl look”. When he was an adult, he told me he wished I had spanked him instead, because it wouldn’t have hurt as much!
2. I’m currently working with a webmaster to put up several new websites (Baha’i Quotes, Stories and Prayers). Neither of us is gifted in design, so he does something and then I find fault (nit-pick, pick holes in, focus on shortcomings). I know from past experiences like this, that I can be very demanding and exacting.
My hunch is that if you go back and look at the list again, you will be able to find ways in which you find fault as well, since it seems to be very pervasive in our Western culture. It is also our worst characteristic:
The most hateful characteristic of man is fault-finding. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No.11, p. 192)
Here is some of what the Baha’i Writings have to teach about the various forms of fault-finding:
Now is certainly not the time for any man to . . . busy himself with the weaknesses of his brother; but, rather each and every Bahá’í must concentrate in the tasks ahead and be reborn in the service of Bahá’u’lláh. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)
Warn, O Salman, the beloved of the one true God, not to view with too critical an eye the sayings and writings of men. Let them rather approach such sayings and writings in a spirit of open-mindedness and loving sympathy. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 329)
Vicious criticism is indeed a calamity. But its root is lack of faith in the system of Bahá’u’lláh, i.e., the Administrative Order — and lack of obedience to Him — for He has forbidden it! If the Bahá’ís would follow the Bahá’í laws . . . all this waste of strength through criticizing others could be diverted into cooperation and achieving the Plan. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 91)
Related to this [fear of making a mistake] is the tendency of the friends to criticize each other at the slightest provocation, whereas the Teachings call upon them to encourage each other. Such tendencies are of course motivated by a deep love for the Faith, a desire to see it free of any flaw. But human beings are not perfect. The Local Assemblies and the friends must be helped through your example and through loving counsel to refrain from such a pattern of criticism, which stunts the growth and development of the community. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
While constructive criticism is encouraged, destructive criticism, such as the pattern of “continually challenging and criticizing the decisions” of the Assemblies, prevents the rapid growth of the Faith and repels those who are yet outside the community. Indeed “all criticisms and discussions of a negative character which may result in undermining the authority of the Assembly as a body should be strictly avoided. For otherwise the order of the Cause itself will be endangered, and confusion and discord will reign in the community. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)
The more the friends argue back and forth and maintain, each side, that their point of view is the right one, the worse the whole situation becomes. (Shoghi Effendi, Directives of the Guardian, pp. 17-18)
For Bahá’ís to go further than this, by engaging in acrimonious debate, much less by reflecting on the character of others, would be to cross the line that separates legitimate defence of the Faith from contention. (The Universal House of Justice, 1999 Nov 22, Attacks on the Faith in Internet Discussions, p. 2)
. . . abstain from criticizing and disparaging the manners, customs and beliefs of other individuals, peoples and nations. (Shoghi Effendi, Scholarship, p. 7)
Disparage not anyone’s name, and wish no harm upon anyone. (The Universal House of Justice, 2001 Apr 18, Clarification of Various Issues Raised by Provisional Translations, p. 1)
Skepticism, cynicism, disbelief, immorality and hard-heartedness are rife, and as friends are those who stand for the antithesis of all these things they should beware lest the atmosphere of the present world affects them without their being conscious of it. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 542)
Blame goes one step further. It is the act of censuring (vehement expression of disapproval); holding someone responsible; making negative statements about an individual or group that their action or actions are socially or morally irresponsible; the opposite of praise.
Synonyms include: reproach, reprove, reprehend, criticize, censure, condemn, scold and rebuke.
We constantly consciously and unconsciously find fault and make judgementsabout other people, apportioning blame. Our basis for judging others may be partly ingrained, negative and rigid indicating some degree of grandiosityor feelings that we know best how something ought to be done.
Blaming is also a way of devaluing others. The end result is that the blamer feels superior. Others are seen as less worthwhile making the blamer “perfect”. Off-loading blame means putting the other person down by emphasizing his or her flaws.
Here is some of what the Baha’i Writings have to teach about the various forms of blaming:
It behoveth you, therefore, to attach blame to no one except to yourselves, for the things ye have committed, if ye but judge fairly. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 222-223)
Refrain from censure and from slander, and leave him in the Hand of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 315)
Even if you are doing nothing deliberately to discourage such freedom, their accumulated impression of institutional disapproval, however derived, and their fear of criticism are, to a considerable extent, inhibiting their exercise of initiative. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
Generally the speech of reproach and rebuke is rather too severe for the people and would be heartbreaking to them. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 167)
Beware lest ye offend the feelings of anyone, or sadden the heart of any person, or move the tongue in reproach of and finding fault with anybody, whether he is friend or stranger, believer or enemy . . . Beware, beware that any one rebuke or reproach a soul, though he may be an ill-wisher and an ill-doer. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 44)
All religions teach that we should love one another; that we should seek out our own shortcomings before we presume to condemn the faults of others, that we must not consider ourselves superior to our neighbours! We must be careful not to exalt ourselves lest we be humiliated. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 147)
Accusing is similar. It involves saying that someone has done something wrong or illegal even though this has not been proved. It can be a declaration of fault or blame against another. It can charge falsely or with malicious intent or attack the good name and reputation of someone and usually involves finger pointing.
Synonyms include: to cast aspersions, besmirch, defame, denigrate, sully, smear, indict, denounce, attribute to, hold responsible for, censure, incriminate, condemn, calumny (a false and malicious statement designed to injure thereputation of someone or something), slander (a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report) and vilify (speak evil of, to lower in worth or value)
It is particularly important to refrain from making unfavourable remarks or statements concerning the friends and the loved ones of God, inasmuch as any expression of grievance, of complaint or backbiting is incompatible with the requirements of unity and harmony and would dampen the spirit of love, fellowship and nobility. (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 195)
Here is what the Baha’i Writings say about the various forms of accusation:
Woe betide every slanderer and defamer. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 219)
The Guardian wishes me to draw the attention of the friends through you that they should be very careful in their public utterances not to mention any political figures-either side with them or denounce them. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 441)
Denounce ye not one another, ere the Day-Star of ancient eternity shineth forth above the horizon of His sublimity. (The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 127)
Therefore it is incumbent upon the members of the exalted Spiritual Assembly to exercise the utmost care with firm determination and not to allow the doors of complaint and grievance to be opened, or permit any of the friends to indulge in censure and backbiting. Whoever sets himself to do so, even though he be the very embodiment of the Holy Spirit, should realize that such behaviour would create disruption among the people of Bahá and would cause the standard of sedition to be raised. (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 195)
Calumny: (means slander, defamation, libel, lie, misrepresent):
The individual must be educated to such a high degree that he would rather have his throat cut than tell a lie, and would think it easier to be slashed with a sword or pierced with a spear than to utter calumny or be carried away by wrath. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 136-137)
Against calumny there is no defense . . . having no helper, assistant nor shelter from the sword of accusation and the teeth of calumny, save God! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 379)
Henceforward everyone should utter that which is meet and seemly, and should refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 219-220)
Woe betide every slanderer and defamer. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 219)
Vilify: (means to criticize, belittle)
It is not, however, permissible to strike a child, or vilify him, for the child’s character will be totally perverted if he be subjected to blows or verbal abuse. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 125)
Some people spend their lives looking for something or someone to attack or blame. They’re always looking at the negative or the dark side of life. We can never feel peaceful around them, because we’re always waiting to be the next target of their negativity. We know we will fail them, and let them down, just as they’ve been let down by everyone before. It’s hard to trust when we’re protecting ourselves from their condemnation.
All three (fault-finding, blame and accusation) involve an element of judgement. The motives for all of them are to eliminate the other person by proving you are right and “they” are wrong. Most of the time, all three need an audience, which leads us to both gossip and backbiting. All of it comes from our lower nature.
The Bahá’ís must learn to forget personalities and to overcome the desire – so natural in people – to take sides and fight about it. (Shoghi Effendi, The Light of Divine Guidance v I, p. 151)
In the article on Fault-Finding in the blog “Living Life Fully”, the author says:
It’s easy to find fault in things–far too easy for most of us. Somehow, the flaws are far more easy to see than the bigger picture, than the amount of work and thought and preparation have gone into a particular piece of work. Think about it–if someone just painted his or her house and missed a spot, what’s the first thing we see? If someone just cooked us dinner and used a bit too much salt, what’s the first thing we notice when we put the food into our mouths?
And if we do notice the bare spot on the house, aren’t we doing the person a favor by pointing it out? And if the food’s too salty we may not be able to eat it, so we’ll definitely need to explain why.
Many of us carry this tendency to extremes, though. Many people feel that they need to tell everyone about every little fault that they find in every situation. They feel that they’re doing people favors by pointing out what they see as flaws and problems, even though they may not be in a position in which people expect them to find mistakes. And when they do so, they risk hurting people greatly. http://www.livinglifefully.com/faultfinding.htm
Fault-finding, blame and accusation are related to bitterness, because they are often what lie behind it. It’s our lower nature’s job to cause us to accuse others and to hook into other people so they accuse us. Our lower nature wants us to think the worst of others and blame and accuse them, so that we stay trapped in the prison of self, far removed from our true station which is to know and worship God.
It can happen at three levels – against ourselves (by ourselves and others); against others (by us) and against God. Let’s look at each of these individually.
For more articles in this series:
Fault-Finding, Blame and Accusation . . . :