A Personal Reflection on the Harmful Effects of Backbiting

A young woman whom I’d recently befriended fell pregnant outside of marriage. When she called me, she was in complete shock and beside herself. In her agitation she spoke of her fear of what others would think of her, she was terrified of the name calling she and her unborn child would face. She felt she had besmirched her family name and was petrified of the judgment of her close and extended family, her community and friends.

She comes from a very traditional family, and spoke of how her parents would expect her to have an abortion to “save face.”

This is not a blog post about the rights and wrongs of having a child outside of marriage. It is not a post about abortion. Rather it’s about my horrifying realization that backbiting not only “quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul,”1 but in actuality, it can end a life.

When we participate in backbiting and fault finding, we are representing ourselves as unforgiving. We are participating in exerting societal pressure on someone, and in extreme cases we are unknowingly putting people in desperate situations where they feel they must choose between their honor and reputation or a human life. In that moment we have completely dehumanized that person.

In The Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book, Baha’u’llah writes that backbiting is not permitted.2 The laws of God like this one are for our protection; when we hold true to them we are in a better position to navigate our life. The laws of God were created out of God’s love for humanity. I believe they are not intended as a yard-stick for us to compare ourselves to others, or as a tool for us to pass judgment over others.

This can hold true far beyond the example given above. Societal expectations and judgment have led to suicide, honor killing, depression, anxiety and have their roots in an unforgiving society. There are examples of women who stay in abusive relationships rather than face the stigma of being a divorcee, there are high school students that will choose suicide rather than fail entrance exams, there are husbands who will choose death rather than the shame of failing to provide for their family, there are women and men who will remain silent after rape for fear of the stigma they will face.

We are all trying our best to navigate life. When a child takes its first steps, do we applaud their effort, realizing that they’re trying their best, or do we focus on the fall? We are all trying to grapple with the duality of our lower nature and higher nature.3 We all have faults and short-comings that will inevitably be exposed. But it is through their exposure that we can grow and develop. Therefore, I think we should be patient and kind to each other and even ourselves. When we pass judgment on others, we are also passing judgment on ourselves. If we are not kind to others, how can we be kind to ourselves? When we participate in backbiting, are we not giving the green-light for others to subject us to the same?

Baha’u’llah says:

How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? … Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner.4

Abdu’l-Baha also tells us:

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.5

The consequences of backbiting far exceed the moment, in reality its effects are long lasting:

For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century.6

Society’s expectations of us, and its judgment of us, should not define us. When it does, we cease to be human. We place more importance on a judgment, which is a fault and short-coming of a person, over the inherent nobility of a human life. It is for this reason that we must fervently guard ourselves from being exposed or participating in back-biting.

Abdu’l-Baha has deemed backbiting “the worst human quality and the most great sin.” In the same passage, Abdu’l-Baha counsels us to

…shun completely backbiting, each one praising the other cordially and 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.7

In the society in which I live, back-biting has become normalized. It is a juicy bit of gossip, something to anonymously, or blatantly, post about. It is something we feel entitled to discuss over coffee without any regard for the consequences and the harm caused by our words. However, what we are creating is a society that is willing to shun, dehumanize and devalue its citizens. One that is fixed in its mindset, rather than focusing on the growth of a human being.

Falen D’Cruz wrote about how to have Backbiting-free Conversations, and like her I feel that when we understand the harm caused by backbiting, we will be in a better position to correct our own behaviour and encourage others to do the same.


 

  1. Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 346 []
  2. Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas []
  3. Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, “Two Natures in Man” []
  4. Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 254 []
  5. Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha Abbas, p. 730 []
  6. Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 346 []
  7. Abdu’l-Baha, Lights of Guidance, p. 91 []

About the Author

Kamelia

Kamelia is a Baha'i and a mother of three. She studied Law, Accounting and Children's Services, but spends most of her days now trying to navigate her way through motherhood. She is particularly interested in early childhood education and Baha'i scholarship.

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Discussion 2 Comments

  1. Interestingly, in the Aqdas, Bahá’u’lláh condemns backbiting and murder within a single sentence. This may considered as an indication, that both are similarly bad.

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