When I really want to know how someone is, I also watch their body language. If someone frowns, shrugs their shoulders or looks down, I ask, ‘How are you, really?’ and out comes the story.
My friend had discovered that several people were falsely gossiping about him, saying something that could genuinely damage his reputation for honesty. They were lying about honesty!
Later, someone told me they were sorry to hear that my husband Dan and I were leaving Paradise for good. “What?” I responded, “No way.” This piece of false gossip didn’t condemn our character, but it still hurt to know people make up stories about us.
There are important Teachable Moments when it comes to gossip and backbiting. First is the need to grow the virtue of Trust. If people know you backbite, how can they trust you with their true story? Also, backbiting divides and disunites people.
Yes, I know it is the community pastime in any small towns across the world. There is no harm in talking about people in a caring, encouraging way or to spread real news. ‘Mary is going in for surgery. Let’s pray for her’.
Or to let people know of something kind someone did, or that a child has gone off to school. The trouble with gossip, especially when it is negative and false is that it makes us think the worst of each other. This has a deeply destructive effect on the soul, not only the one being talked about but the one doing the gossiping.
From a Divine perspective, it amounts to spiritual suicide. The Baha’i Writings say that ‘backbiting quenches the light of the heart and extinguishes the life of the soul’.
The Bible has many statements about the power of words to destroy, not only reputations, but the spirit of the one speaking them: James 1:26 says: ‘If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless’.
Mathew 7:1 says, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged…’
The Hindu teaching of Karma tells us that what we put out into the world will come back to us multiplied.
So, what do we do? How do we break the habit?
What do we say when someone starts backbiting about someone? What I find helpful is to simply say, ‘I’d rather not hear this. Let’s change the subject’. or ‘I’d rather get to know them myself’.
Once, I even said, ‘Who are you to cast the first stone?’ When a critical thought of someone comes into my own mind, I chase it out by thinking of something good about that person.
If I am sorely tempted to gossip about them, I ‘zip my lip’ and stay quiet. I am happy to say that most of my closest friends have stopped the habit too, at least with me. Believe it or not, we find plenty of other things to talk about!
All the Scriptures have prayers asking God to ‘create in me a pure heart’. Giving up the habit of backbiting is one of the best ways to purify our words, our thoughts, our hearts, and our souls.