Fault-finding has become so commonplace that it is easy to forget just how wrong and harmful it really is. All religions advise against it. “Let none find the faults of others,” said Buddha, “but (instead) let one see one’s own acts, done and undone.”

Jesus gave similar advice about fault-finding. Instead of looking for a “speck in your brother’s eye,” “first take the log from your own eye.” We are told to concern ourselves with our own shortcomings, not those of others.

Once the mind begins to find the faults of others, however, the next step is to speak of them. In doing so, we harm relationships. According to Proverbs, “He who conceals a transgression seeks love. But he who repeats a matter separates friends” (and spreads the opposite of love). “Speak no evil” is the goal, and in the Psalms is this strong warning: “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him will I cut off (from the Spirit).”

“Austerity of speech,” according to Hindu scripture, “consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial and not agitating to others.” Gossip and backbiting clearly do not meet the mark.

Muhammad once asked his followers, “Do you know what backbiting is? He told them it is "saying something about your brother that he dislikes.” Someone then asked, “What if what I say about my brother is true?" He responded, “If what you say is true then you have backbitten about him, and if it is not true then you have slandered your brother.”

Backbiting, gossip and slander are strongly condemned in the Bahá’í scripture. Baha’u’llah identified such tendencies as the “worst human quality and the most great sin.” Moreover, speaking ill of a fellow soul “quenches the light of the heart” and can even “extinguish the life of the soul.”

Upon reading all these scriptures, I wondered if there is an underlying spiritual reality to life that makes speaking ill of another human being particularly harmful to all concerned -- the speaker, the hearer and the wider society.

What are the cumulative effects of bad-mouthing around the world? How closely related is it to the prejudice, suspicion and malice that divides people? All scriptures advise against backbiting as it destroys the spirit of friendship, love and kindness. We help the world, we are told, by spreading the light rather than the gossip.

Crenshaw is a member of the Baha'i faith. He lives in Eureka. Contact him at davcren@aol.com.

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