The culture of backbiting and gossip is clearly an unhealthy one, and while it is (relatively) easy to stop talking about people, it often does not mean that we are not thinking about other people in a negative light. I have seen, in the last couple of months, how poisonous these thoughts has been to previously beautiful friendships.
I recently read something that struck a chord. In the context of a letter in which the strengths of current day youth exerting every effort to build strong, spiritual communities were being extolled, this sentence popped out as if written in neon lights: “youth whose integrity and uprightness are not undermined by dwelling on the faults of others and who are not immobilized by any shortcoming of their own.” The main reason why this struck a chord is the way these two concepts are so intimately related, and how they in turn are related to a the culture of backbiting and gossip which has harmed people I love.
We know that the purpose of life is to know and worship God, and to contribute to an ever-advancing civilization through the dual moral processes of personal and community development. Oftentimes, we get caught, with the best of intentions, in the trap of dwelling. Recently, a friend of mine decided to stop spending time with a certain person because this person displayed a negative character trait this friend was also struggling with. The conversation was uncomfortably centered on the person’s fault, and it soon became clear that my friend had spent more time dwelling on this person’s fault than reflecting on the way she displays this same character trait.
Thinking about this conversation in the context of the abovementioned sentence made me realize that oftentimes, because we feel immobilized by our own shortcomings, we instead dwell on those of others. That is to say, it is easier for my friend to dwell on this person’s negative character trait because if she reflects on her own, it will paralyze her into inaction.
What seems to play a major role in this situation is the ego, which immobilizes us for various reasons, such as fear of making mistakes. Of course we are meant to make mistakes; it is in our very nature, as imperfect human beings, to make them. And mistakes teach us what not to do, which bring us closer to finding out what we should do; ergo we should be happy when we make a mistake.
So learning to stop dwelling on the faults of others could perhaps not only help decrease backbiting, which, as we know, quenches the light of the heart and extinguishes the life of the soul, but also gives us the space to work on our personal development. It might seem like an impossible task but really, as always, the spiritual solution is both simple and yet difficult to implement: stop dwelling! And one tool that I use, which I have written about before on this blog, is the use of mantras. Any tendency to dwell on someone’s faults can be countered with a simple: “I will not dwell” and by immersing oneself into whatever one is doing instead. And when one feels overwhelmed by one’s own shortcomings, one can remind oneself that “having shortcomings is not the problem; not striving is.”
Do you use mantras? I would love to hear from you!