We say a lot of things about people, either we know them or not. The only reality is that we are backbiting! It does matter, simply because it is a bad habit that undermines the society. Backbiting is a huge threat that becomes more widespread every day. It destroys people’s sense of shame, it distracts people at work, it damages the society. Some say that gossiping is a method of cultural training, that it teaches us how to act in accordance with the society. I don’t agree at all. That is exactly why I say that we need to do better to set an example for the society! And gossiping or backbiting is not the way to do it!
We talk a lot, don’t we? We talk on the phone, on WhatsApp, on social media, at the workplace, at home… And we do say a lot of things about people, either we know these people or not. The only reality is that we are backbiting! Why does this matter? Simply because it is a bad habit that undermines the society. It is an immoral act that destroys social relations. But how do we know what is backbiting and what is not? What is the difference between backbiting, gossip and slander? Here is a short summary.
Imagine writing “You’re a hypocrite!” as a comment to an Instagram post of a friend. Is this backbiting? How about a WhatsApp message saying, “He is disgusting!” about another friend who is not there? Talking to a friend, you criticize someone else: “She says this and that, but it’s not true”. After seeing a politician on TV, you say to your partner: He is so untrustworthy! Which of these can be considered as backbiting? We live in a huge communication network where everyone comments on everything. The boundaries have blurred, we no longer know what is backbiting and what is not. Sources say that it is backbiting when you only say bad things behind someone’s back.[i] If you say good and/or bad things that is gossip. On the other hand, rumor is when false information is spread.[ii]
In short, backbiting is about revealing the flaws or faults of someone behind his or her back – be these flaws true or false. And this is exactly why it is a bad thing. It undermines human dignity, causes bitterness and feud within the society, damages people’s reputation.
And there is also slander, which means talking falsely about a flaw that someone does not have. If a friend of yours is not selfish at all, but you accuse him or her of being selfish behind his/her back, this is slander, which is also a huge threat to the society and to establishing healthy bonds among people.
Yet here is an important question: What is the difference between backbiting and criticism? It is all about the intent. If the goal is humiliating or hurting someone, it is definitely backbiting. However, if you only criticize with the aim of correcting a mistake, setting an example or expressing your views, it is criticism. Remember, anything you say to criticize someone can be said to that person’s face as well.
Well then, here is the question: When we attack someone’s personality on a social media platform or an online channel, can we say it is all said to the person’s face? You may think that such platforms are open to access, so whoever you attack can see it and defend himself/herself. I disagree! You never know for sure if that person uses those channels. That is why I believe all sorts of attacks (including those from trolls) are immoral and wrong.
I also believe that criticism with bad intentions is as bad as backbiting. Criticism works only when it tries to correct a mistake, to give information or to clarify a point with purely good intentions. Otherwise, it is simply another form of defamation.
One final question: Is it that hard to avoid backbiting, gossiping, bad intentions? Definitely not! We can certainly live without talking behind people’s backs. We can live without sharing humiliating photos or videos of people. We can live without commenting on others’ flaws. How? By answering these four questions:
1. Is what I’m about to say related to the person’s character?
2. Will I defame him or her if I say it?
3. Is it something that I could say straight to his/her face?
4. If I post it on digital or conventional media, will he/she read it and reply openly?
Backbiting is a huge threat that becomes more and more widespread every day. It destroys people’s sense of shame, it distracts people at work, it damages the society. It may be caused by anger, hatred, arrogance, need for popularity, competition, jealousy and many other motives. No matter what the reason is, it is always bad.
I believe that to be truly good people, we need to avoid backbiting, take our egos under control and motivate ourselves to do better. Some researchers say that gossiping is a method of cultural training, that it teaches us how to act in accordance with the society.[iii] I don’t agree at all. That is exactly why I say that we need to do better to set an example for the society! And gossiping or backbiting is not the way to do it!
[i] Nisar, F. vd. (2021) Reflection of Backbiting as socio-moral evil in the light of teachings of Quran and Hadit. Research Journal EEQAZ, October-December, V.I,I.2.
[iii] Baumester F. R. vd. (2003). Gossip as Cultural Learning, Review of Generel Psychology, V.8, N.2.