Oh, the joy of gossip, slander and putting down others!! I remember reading somewhere that if we stopped talking about others, our conversations would reduce by a whopping 75% !!! What would we then talk about 😦
The habit starts in early childhood.. I see it in innocuous comments from my elementary age kids – “mom, Owen is stupid”, “Sara chews gum in class”, “he is a bully”. And very soon, it becomes as habitual as breathing. And boy, ain’t the habit hard to break?!
A combination of a re-reading of Tirukkural’s Purankuramai chapter and Swami Ishwaranandha’s short but powerful book “Silent Search” forced me to evaluate my own behavior with respected to slandering. (English – On not backbiting, Tamil – புறங்கூறாமை)
In a nutshell, here is what I understand. By definition, slander/backbiting means talking negatively about a person behind their back.
Why do we slander/backbite?
- To take “revenge” after somebody else hurt you. When somebody has hurt you intentionally or unintentionally, our ego seems to go into a fault-finding mode. When we develop this attitude, everything from what the person says, dresses, eats, goes will appear faulty. This is because, we think slandering them in turn will soothen the hurt they caused us. → when I think about it, this never works. In fact, revisiting the initial hurt never lets the healing happen. In fact, by repeatedly talking/thinking about it, it builds up like a gangrene.
- To feed our own “ego” – by putting down someone, we feel “superior”. For e.g., commenting “her cooking is so bad” is meant to make yourself feel good about your own cooking skills. → This probably makes up a bulk of why we slander.
- To commiserate with somebody’s situation → While this is not always slander, it is important to watch if the comment is genuinely out of compassion and only do it if there is something good that will result out of the conversation.
Based on what Tirukkural says, slander is very much like “the quality of mercy” in one sense – as Shakespeare says, the quality of mercy blesseth him that gives and him that takes. Similarly, slander hurts him that slanders and him that is the object of slander.
How can we prevent slander? Here are some things I am consciously trying with some success.
- When we find fault in others, simply turn back and find a fault within yourselves Tirukkural 190 – If each his own, as neighbours’ faults would scan, could any evil hap to living man? If they observed their own faults as they observe the faults of others, would any evil happen to men ? This should be fairly easy for most of us – it is for me 🙂
- Sympathise – when people act wrongly, give them the benefit of doubt (source – Silent Search). Often, their behavior is a result of their intrinsic vasanas, past experiences, upbringing, current stresses/worries they may have. Just like we get carried away by these intrinsic tendencies, they do to. Forgive them, for they know what what they are doing.
- Move on – After forming a observation about them, move on. Holding on to that memory will influence all future interactions.
Try it. I have for the past half-year or so – mostly works when I consciously follow it. And I try not to be harsh on myself when I fail – after all, lets forgive ourselves first before forgiving others!!