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Backbiting as a main dish? What do you think?

Disordered tableware

What is it that makes a dinner successful? Delightful dishes, a nice atmosphere, guests who get along, who feel happy by the end of the evening and, on their way out, sincerely compliment their host… In fact, each guest could easily come up with a different answer. But the more interesting question might be that of the “ethical success” of such an evening, especially when complex dilemmas arise, involving the guests, one’s own ethical convictions and, sometimes, people who are not even present. Juliette had to take into consideration all three of the above in the very interesting anecdote she shares with us here. Her story will be published in two installments. This first post takes the form of a case study, describing the evening, how things got complicated, and inviting you to share your views on the theme of backbiting: What qualifies as backbiting? What doesn’t qualify as backbiting? What constitutes the best course of action in this situation and why? Put yourself in the shoes of our hostess and share your thoughts and personal experiences by answering the poll questions. The end of this real-life story will be shared with you in a second post. Let us note that Juliette did not have the luxury of the couple of weeks of reflection you will get to make a decision: make sure to take full advantage of this virtual extra time to best reflect on your own practical options were you to be faced with a similar situation.

Some time ago I hosted a dinner with people who were important to me, professionally as well as on a more personal level. I had been trying to make this evening happen for a while and finally managed to do so, despite everyone’s busy schedule…

During the dinner, quite unexpectedly, through the influence of the leading personality of the evening, some of the guests started attacking someone I used to know and who, as a matter of fact, had been the first person to give me my chance professionally. Everyone seemed to have their own juicy story filled with harsh criticism and topped with condescendence and laughter to contribute. To be fair, her latest projects had not been very convincing and it had become common knowledge in our professional community. Although shocked by their comments, I first decided to keep quiet, with two good justifications in mind. One of them, I thought, was in line with ethics — “The fact that I don’t join in means that I don’t agree with them and there is no need for me to say so out loud. My wholehearted inner disapproval is sufficient and makes it unnecessary for me to intervene. My conscience is clear.” — the other one, more selfish — “If I give my opinion, it’s going to kill the mood… And if they disagree, they are going to hold it against me, I will be discredited and lose the benefit of this evening.”

I told myself that they would move on to something else eventually. I could not have been more wrong. The topic seemed inexhaustible. Meanwhile, a little voice within me started teasing me: “Beware! Silence means consent…”, but I still hesitated to intervene and instead found an excuse to leave the table: “I’ll be right back, I’ll go get the desert.”

I took my time, carefully and amorously prepared the sorbets and triumphantly walked back in, convinced that the delicious sight of the ice cream would hijack the conversion: wrong again! The conversation was in full swing and seemed unstoppable. I then attempted, with a touch of approximative humour and a little servile laugh, to force them out of the conversation by talking about the sorbets, how I had prepared them, the flavors I had chosen to meet their preferences… basically, the usual nonsense one would blabber for fear of intervening or taking sides. As a result, they marvelled at the sorbets for about one second and then… back to square one.

I thus went for my first attempt at conciliation: “Hey guys, how about we change the subject ? We’ve covered everything on that one, haven’t we?”

They all stopped and looked at me, and the leader said: “Oh but that’s right, you worked with that woman for a while! I’m sure it wasn’t easy every day with her, right? Come on, let it out!”

I had my back to the wall…

If you are viewing this article from the mobile app, click here to participate in the poll.

1. Is it correct to say that this situation involves backbiting? (select one or more answer choices)

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2. The idea that “silence means consent” is troubling our hostess. Faced with backbiting:

Access directly to the poll results if you have already voted

3. “Some of the guests started attacking someone I used to know and who, as a matter of fact, had been the first person to give me my chance professionally.” Do you think that, in this particular situation, it was Juliette’s duty to defend her colleague?
4. How would you deal with this situation?

Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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  1. FSH May 12, 2015 11:45 am 1

    Juliette should have tried to change the subject by very politely and mildly defending the person. She could, for example, start by mentioning that everybody makes mistakes and that nobody is perfect. Then she could start talking about her positive points.

    1. Karin Oct 03, 2015 12:20 am 1.1

      To the comment of FSH: I like this comment. If I were at the place of Juliette I would do it like this, say something positive about the person. Focus on the positive points of that person. Do it in a smooth way or with a kind of humour.

  2. Gary May 12, 2015 11:47 am 2

    The leading personality appears to be a strong and charismatic character and the rest of the group have followed his stance. My experience with this type of person is that because I’m not strong and charismatic to anything like the same extent, if I try and say something it usually backfires as it did here. So maybe remaining silent is the best option.

    Maybe in a different situation, for example a one to one conversation where the other party is in a mood that they are open to feedback from others, then you can test the water.

    Its a difficult situation, and I do feel for Julliet, at the end of the day it is her intention that counts, it appears she was striving to do the right thing under difficult circumstances, so nobody can fault her for that.

    1. Roshanak May 13, 2015 1:55 am 2.1

      I think if she could act as those wise teachers, as soon she feels that the leading personality is bringing up subjects out of place, the host could go to the kitchen ask that person to join her,and very nicely tell her that if she could help her for the evening , and that these kind of subjects are not appropriate for her evening ,and that she did put a lot of effort to make it a pleasant one for everyone. Of course it is easier said than done. Specially we do not have enough information about how close she is to that person.
      Last night I was at a party,when a person asked others what their opinion was of their mother in law ,this lady kindly mentioned right away that she wanted to discuss this other subject to change the subject, her tone was firm but not offensive. I really appreciated her personality and praised her doing in my head. It is also our duty not to give away our righteous rights, this also helps to prevent others from wrongdoing indirectly.

  3. khati May 12, 2015 12:06 pm 3

    If I was the host, I would feel uncomfortable too, but after all because I knew something good about my ex boss( that would be a fact not just an action of supporting her emotionally), I would not be able to resist not mentioning it no matter what. It might not made them stop backbiting but at least I would have done my part. Then I would start trying a new subject with one or two of guests to change the atmosphere gradually without making a scene.

    1. leo Jun 14, 2015 6:33 pm 3.1

      This happened to me the day after the present article was published.

      I found myself at a lunch table with three other co-workers. One person was criticizing a particular community. I kept silent. I didn’t know them.

      It was not pleasant to my ears. I had to do something. So I first entered into a dialogue with Him: “What can I do, what can I say, Help me”.

      At some point, I tried to join the conversation but it didn’t turn out well. What I said almost supported her criticisms. Failed attempt!
      A few minutes later, I had another chance. My comment was a bit off-topic, but personal and positive. Finally, someone else decided to mention that she had relatives in this community and the discussion shifted.
      Only for a short period of time. But it didn’t matter. I felt good.

      It takes practice to achieve a balanced approach

      1. leo Jun 15, 2015 4:20 pm 3.1.1

        And also reflecting upon it and writing about it is helpful.

        It has helped me in the past to get a bit more prepared if a similar situation occurs.

  4. Masoud May 12, 2015 1:20 pm 4

    In my opinion in most cases it is possible to share some good experiences on the subject of backbiting with guests and try to divert the main subject from backbiting to something else. Like a funny mistake we have already made in some kind of similar situation as the conversation is going on.

    1. Alex May 13, 2015 6:14 am 4.1

      “Like a funny mistake we have already made in some kind of similar situation…”

      This is a good idea! This made me think that perhaps directing ALL of the attention of everybody at the table to yourself (in Juliettes specific situation) by telling a self-depricating story may be helpful. It’s funny so it keeps the mood light and you’re only making fun of yourself, not putting anyone else down and it can help change the subject.

      The matter of whether or not to defend Juliette’s former co-worker is more complex. I would think defending her would be the right thing to do, but it may be difficult to do in that situation.

      1. Ia May 15, 2015 10:02 am 4.1.1

        I love this suggestion. Thanks.

      2. David May 30, 2015 11:43 pm 4.1.2

        Great point, I agree with Masoud and Alex. If also humor could have been used to defend her former co-worker and then shift the attention to my shortcomings, all the better. But it requires relatively strong verbal skills.

  5. NNFZ May 12, 2015 1:35 pm 5

    If presented with a situation like this, initially it would not be easy. sometimes it’s just easier to sit back and not say anything, but that is not ideal. For me, I would have tried to change the subject at first. If I saw that people continued to talk badly about the other person, then I would have said something positive about that person. These situations are never easy. I feel like you have to build up courage and do the right thing. Sometimes it’s easy to be influenced by those around us and participate in what they are doing. Leading by example is very important.

  6. SHM May 12, 2015 2:23 pm 6

    If she knows they are wrong, she should defend her, otherwise, she should stay quiet.

    1. MJ May 24, 2015 5:05 pm 6.1

      Agree with SHM with one more suggestion. I would gather up all of the positive stories that I could find about her and shove them into the conversation.

  7. SusanB May 12, 2015 2:26 pm 7

    This is a real tough one and in my experience the only thing that stops me from doing what is right is the fear of other people’s opinion of me. If we are to do the right thing I believe we have to put that fear aside. – Not an easy task. However, this is particularly delicate as we also, do not want to hurt the feelings of those present by pointing out their error and making them look small!! Perhaps a gentle – ‘you may have seen faults in her but my own experience was that she was very supportive and helpful – I can only speak as I find and clearly there is another side to her. I feel sorry that she is not doing so well lately.’…..

  8. RO May 12, 2015 2:44 pm 8

    Very difficult situation for the host.
    Being silent vs breaking silence: She has to consider her motives and intention. Is she trying to teach others ethics / is she trying to save her dinner party / is she trying to protect herself from the harmful effects of backbitting / or is she trying to show her due respect for the 1st person to give her proffessional chance?
    If the latter two are her motives and intention, then she should say something such as: Hey guys I would feel more comfortable to change the subject since I feel no matter what I owe this person some respect for helping me and being the 1st person to give me a chance proffessionally … now what do you think about this desert and then change the subject.

    1. MZA May 16, 2015 9:44 pm 8.1

      “Hey guys, I would feel more…..” I love this comment; to the point and very piercing, I would do it in a loud voice and with full confidence. She is “The Host”, and carries big weight, everyone would listen to her. But, I would practice it a few times in front of mirror before I pull it off.

  9. VPK May 12, 2015 4:00 pm 9

    My initial reaction to this was that Juliette did all she could do. Then I remembered, however, that the practice of ethical principles should be “in vivo”. With that in mind, it appears that silence is not enough. One must actually physically make a move to reap the benefits of fighting against the imperious self. While Juliette did attempt to do this, perhaps she could have gone a step further and mentioned a positive trait about the person being talked about. Nevertheless, I must say that if I were in her situation I probably would not want to turn my dinner party into a full blown argument.

  10. Ia May 12, 2015 4:18 pm 10

    To the question “Keeping silent means consent”:
    In view of my own recent experience, keeping silent would have been excellent. Because I was the instigator of the conversation. Rather, I was the only one ranting about a colleague quite vehemently and in an outburst among other outbursts that I have been having for a while. Of course I had (have) a good deal of reasons and that is of course the tricky thing. I could almost start ranting about her now.

    But thanks to God, I recently saw how she could be beneficial to a colleague I love and admire and who is often overlooked…(I have a mother hen syndrome of quite some importance.) I got the vitamine I needed to get back in line spiritually. Maybe because of praying a lot recently about wanting “His” satisfaction in another dilemma I have been mulling over…Still, I feel I was not at all deserving in getting that load off my back, and yet He swept it off, maybe for a while so I continue with effort.

    In any case. In our study here of the dinner, it is of course virtuous not to mix in. The host of the evening does not say if she has or had any contention with her boss/colleague. We don’t know if she is fighting against a negative feeling toward her. So again keeping quiet IS, in my opinion part of the battle.

    However, it seems the host did not harbour any negativity toward this person and that her can of worms is with these colleagues/”friends” she is trying to impress by her efforts as hostess…I DO feel it is very wrong to keep quiet in this situation, and the SIGN seems to be that she is trying as she says to “get ahead” professionally or personally through this dinner.

    What is that saying again? The path to evil is paved with good intentions….or silent people…?

    I have en experience at work of “friends” who have told me they don’t want others to know they are friends with me for fear of ruining their position among colleagues (in the details of everyday life: who they have lunch with, what they talk about mainly back-biting, and keeping on the side of the “people in power”). I do find this a dangerous path to walk and I feel resentment toward these people. I feel they are weak and I am torn because they act as friends toward me when no one else is around….Again, I find this is the attitude of “collaborators”…

    But I cannot judge our “host” as I myself am an “instigator” type and use my “goodness” and righteousness as an excuse to backbite, which is certainly much more hateful in God’s eyes…

    Good luck to us all : )

  11. B May 12, 2015 5:18 pm 11

    By telling her positive experience, Juliette could have reminded others or at least some of them that they probably have seen some positive attributes in the person of interest. Also reminding the others that we all have positive and negative attributes.

    1. bani May 19, 2015 12:52 pm 11.1

      I think silence is no option and she should do like B says. I think the difficult thing is not to “start a fight”. That is to stay calm and say someting along what B mentions while having control over one’s nerves.

  12. PS May 12, 2015 6:27 pm 12

    She could have mentioned some positive points of the person and how she has been helped in her career by them.

  13. AA May 12, 2015 7:27 pm 13

    This is a very difficult situation and I am sure I would not be able to handle it properly at the moment. Now looking at the scenario from far away, it seems like the hostess is more afraid of her impression on her guests rather than His satisfaction.
    If we gauge our actions toward His satisfaction, we know that we should act and at least try to make them understand that we are not happy about this conversation. It is important that we use our sound reason before talking and acting immediately and making sure what we say is not going to back fire and make the conversation stronger but I believe that she should have started telling them about that person’s positive points and change the conversation before leaving it go so long.

    1. David May 30, 2015 11:51 pm 13.1

      AA, I completely agree with you, she is held hostage by her ego’s strong material desires, and she has a hard time preferring Divine satisfaction to her ego’s. I think as Masoud and Alex pointed out, humor and diverting attention to something else, like myself is probably the way sound reason would have advised me to handle the situation, since there is an upbeat atmosphere which to some extent could be saved, while respecting the rights of her co-workers.

  14. Naghme May 12, 2015 7:30 pm 14

    What if they say they’ve said all of this to the person’s face, and they even say before they start “I’m not backbiting by the way” but then as they continue to talk you feel that it has turned into backbiting?

    Also if this person is a respectful and ethical person and you want to deal with them in a nice way?

  15. Homayoun May 12, 2015 8:07 pm 15

    She should have definitely defended this person; not only because she was good to her by giving her the 1st chance in professional life; but also because it is unethical to speak ill of others.

    The method to go about it should have been the following:

    1. Stop the discussion from beginning by stating that she does not like to talk about others; and since it is her house that she does not want to focus on this evening to be on a negative topic; after all she worked so hard in preparation for this evening.

    2. If above is not successful then she should point out how she got her 1st chance via this person.

    3. And if this is not enough then talking about the fact that no one is perfect and we all have made many mistakes; and let’s talk about all of the good people that have helped us and put the focus of our discussion on this positive spin

  16. Lisa May 12, 2015 8:19 pm 16

    it would need a lot of courage to stand up against all those people who are also my guests, but I would still ask for a change of topic and would also very friendly remind my guests that it is not right to speak about somebody who cannot defend herself. I also would be aware of that these people would talk behind my back, but I would feel better this way than if I did not try to end the backbiting. Yet, I am not sure how I would feel at the end of the day.

  17. Ld May 12, 2015 10:19 pm 17

    In this situation, it is better if we try to chang the subject. If any body asks my opinion, I have to remind them that there are some posetive points in her work, personality or … so that the negative attitude about her is changed somehow.

  18. Holly May 12, 2015 10:38 pm 18

    It’s a bit difficult to judge the situation – as there are more factors which need to be considered before deciding what is the best strategy for dealing with the above situation . I personally don’t think it’s ethical or simply fair to sit back and keep quite when someone’s dignity , personality and character is being assassinated !thus no matter what , one should without necessarily disrespecting any one in particular try and simply make it clear that one is not excited / happy with the way the discussion is taking place . This can be done in a variety of ways , depending on the psyche of the guest , The common sense of the hostess and the history of the group. So , it is not easy to pass judgment , to say what should exactly be done – but as a general rule it’s vital that we do and say the right thing no matter how unpopular it may make us – as we may lose a few friends in the short term , but I am certain we shall gain many better friends in long run. It’s seriously important to check our own intentions & ask for guidance from the Beloved .
    Some of the best decisions I have made , were when I have imagined the Beloved next to me – why ? Simply because , I am absolutely terrified of knowingly making the wrong decision – as I know this will lead to Him being upset with me and in turn me falling further and further into the arms of my imperious self.

  19. Ray May 12, 2015 11:12 pm 19

    I would start by listening to what is said, who says what and understand where everybody is coming from.
    My focus would be on the “ring leader”: if he/she is the most important person in the group who is also leading the group in gossiping about that person, I would start by gauging why this person is backbiting: is it just “fun”, an easy pray situation and “harmless’ or are some other things going in the background. For example, is the ring leader jealous of the person or feels threatened by the person in question. How deep is the antipathy? is it personal? or is it just “having some fun “at the expense of someone who is not there?
    Then I would listen to the rest of the people and determine who is with the ring leader, who is more quiet and maybe in a similar situation as me, ie is maybe not completely convinced that the conversation is totally fair and just afraid to speak up. That allows me to analyze the situation and see who stands where and who can be swayed to my side. My experience is that those people who are “just going along with it” without a strong conviction one way or another will be easier to sway or redirect.

    After that initial “fact finding” process, I would have to come up with a plan that addresses 2 main objectives:
    1) steer the conversation away from the negativity
    2) dont loose my grounding from a material perspective, if possible (“if possible” because sometimes there are situations where it is about principles and potential negative material consequences become an acceptable price to pay if I feel really strongly about a subject)

    I would start to divert the discussion around the topic toward someone who I think is more in my shoes, who I know had a positive experience with the person in question and whose opinion is respected among the group and say something along these lines:
    “John, I know you had also some very positive experiences with so and so…?”
    There are 2 options to this approach:
    1) John tells us the story about how he had a positive view of that person.
    2) John denies the fact or does not want to speak about it.

    Scenario 1) the negativity is interrupted for a split second by positivity (no matter how small that positivity was). I can now pick up on that to maybe also share a positive story about the person in question. Since it is me who is speaking now, I can actually tell a very positive story AND I am not telling my story in a vacuum since John already introduced the positivity into the conversation and the perception will be that there is not only me thinking that way. Then I would jokingly say that in fact I am sure that everybody has something positive to say about the person and would challenge everybody to say ONE nice thing bout the person. There will be some people who will go along (mostly those who do not feel strongly about backbiting) and some who will be more resistant (mostly those who have reasons that may be deeper and more complex as a driving force). This allows me to even better understand where everybody stands in the topic and where this is all coming from and hence devise a strategy to address it. If no one responds, I would present this like a “challenge or dare game”: “oh come on Frank (ring leader), I am sure that even YOU could come up with something positive to say. Humor me…no? I am sure that SOMEONE has a positive story…I cant believe that a thoughtful and perceptive person like you cant think of something positive…no?”

    Scenario 2) John does not go along with my plan and does not respond to my inquiry. That shuts it down there, but the concept that this may be more layered and multifaceted has now been introduced just by verbalizing that there may be positive stories. Then I would wait silently and listen and try to find another angle to introduce another positive spin by using what I know about the people around me (similar to John). Eventually some one will tell a positive story and I would proceed like in step 1. If not I would tell my own story, since “no one seems to be able to even say ONE positive thing about so and so, I will have to step in myself…” turning it into challenge again. This can be done by acknowledging the fact that the person in question does have some undeniable flaw but “ here are the positives and I challenge anyone to come up with something positive”.

    My experience is that this approach allows me to steer the conversation and divert away from too much negativity without opening myself too much to criticism from within the group in a humorous and playful way.

    Interestingly enough, I have found that this works better if I do not have my own grievances about the person in question. If I do, I have observed myself actually using this very exact technique to make everybody gossip even more to satisfy my own desire to hear more negative things without saying it myself. I would introduce something positive into the conversation when I know that that the people in the group have had the exact opposite experience with the person in question. For example, I would say something like: “I know so and so has all these flaws but at least she is an excellent cook” when I know fully that the overwhelming sentiment is that she is not. Invariable the response to that is: “ Oh my God, don’t get me started on that….let me tell a story about that…”
    And so while I can tell myself that I attempted to change the subject by saying something positive, I only wanted to have the group gossip more. But I did not gossip myself, in fact I said something nice about her….

    It is imperative therefore the start with a certain degree of introspection as to where I stand on the topic to start with and do I understand my own motives and objectives and how much I am entangled in my own sentiments to start with. This is imperative to design a proper strategy to address this problem and control myself.

  20. Marc May 12, 2015 11:34 pm 20

    It really depends on the situation and our own personality. But regardless of these we should start to defend the person, if we have knowledge about the individual, by saying positive things about her. However, if it stimulates even more backbiting we should stop.

  21. haleh May 12, 2015 11:50 pm 21

    We may all have experienced a similar scenario, at times I have been successful in defending the person who was the subject of gossip and at times I have just kept silent and indeed many times, I am ashamed to say that I have been part of the group laughing at someone else’s expense. The best example that I can think of, was when my son who was caught in a similar situation, first felt the divine presence and then made a comment, his comment had a long-lasting impact on those who were involved in this situation. When my son first began to explain the scenario to me, I criticised him for ‘trying to teach a lesson to his colleagues and bosses’ , later after hearing how the situation had unfolded, I realised that because he had not felt alone and had the divine presence in mind, whilst making his comment, the intention was not just to speak ‘out of duty’ but his intention was to have the divine satisfaction in mind, whatever the consequence, that resulted in such positive impact on the group as a whole- his comment was enough to change the atmosphere and make others reflect. So much so that the people who had made the negative comments had hugged him out of admiration for his comments, the following day. The lesson here for me was that a) how many times do I personally sacrifice my principles because I think it might be an easier life for me in the short-run and how many times have I been afraid to defend my principles for compromising my position, job and face. b) The few times that I had tried to avert gossip was because I thought it was the ‘right thing to do’ rather than ‘is this what God wants!’

    1. Ia May 13, 2015 1:32 am 21.1

      to Haleh:
      Thank you for this comment. Yes, I feel that the core is there. not the “right thing” but “what He wants”. I am not sure, but I feel a difference in the articulation and intention. I feel I often get into a mental jam with wanting to do the right thing and then it becomes about me rather than Him and the truth of the situation that mostly is beyond my comprehension. But if I have faith, and seek to act in accordance with His satisfaction, it is not about my ego and my imperious self even trying to use the situation to make me even more confused and even become righteous and judgmental toward others.
      the way you formulate your intention in your heart/mind does truly have an effect on the outcome. And you can feel the difference. It feels right.
      Thank you again Haleh.

  22. AE May 13, 2015 1:25 am 22

    Basing this purely on the mentioned parameters, if I were hosting this party and saw this backbiting going on, I’d invite the leader to heighten the negative aspects of this person, and facilitate the discussion to transition to the less negative and eventually to positive attributes of the person in question, by reframing the leader’s perspective and bringing new perspectives into the discussion. IMO, the hostess needs to take a vertical leap in her personal development (looking at Robert Keagan work on Adult Development at Harvard Uni is a good starting point).

  23. Sara May 13, 2015 2:06 am 23

    The idea that silence means consent to me is sufficient because Julliete contenplated saying something negative or not but instead she chose not to. That is honorable since it would have been the easier thing to do to contribute. But instead she fought her imperious self and did the right thing by being quiet and contributing to the negative conversation.

    I think the way Julliete handled the situation was good because it is very easy to give in to situations similar to the one described. She tried to remove herself from the situation and even politely asked to change the subject.

  24. MO May 13, 2015 3:39 am 24

    I think the first comment is quite fair, we need to defend people when we have seen positive of them.
    “Juliette should have tried to change the subject by very politely and mildly defending the person. She could, for example, start by mentioning that everybody makes mistakes and that nobody is perfect. Then she could start talking about her positive points.”

  25. Naz May 13, 2015 4:25 am 25

    although it is even hard to stay quiet about that person, in this case she should say positive things about her. as a matter of fact, Juliette owes her somehow since she first gave her a chance professionally!
    Here she shouldn’t consider what other people think! She is thinking about others, not about what is right and wrong! She is scared of disagreeing with the majority and that is not right!

  26. Michele May 13, 2015 7:27 am 26

    assuming i would have been in my inner guide as the hostess was, i would have tried to smile and say just once that “to me it is difficult to listen to all those stories because i owe her the my first job opportunity. I feel very thankful to her”. Just the truth with thankfulness to her in my heart without thinking about the result, which is not predictable.

  27. Ia May 13, 2015 3:05 pm 27

    Reading over the comments so far, I would like to re-comment.
    I don’t think it matters that the host had been helped professionally by the person being laughed at. I think that is the detail in the example to make it a little more difficult to analyse. In fact, the person I mentioned that I just can’t help speaking ill of because it seethes in me and I am very creative when I am angry at someone….I don’t find any advantage in her and even my positive point I thought about the other day evaporated since because I fell back into back-biting only last night at home. Well, I think no one deserves to be spoken about like that because the principle is that we should not do unto others that we do not wish to have done unto us! If I mae mistakes in life, if people think I am ridiculous or unprofessional, I’d really appreciate it it if they didn’t even think it and saw that I actually had good sides and deserved to be where I was etc. I’d like to benefit from other people’s clement view. Without petty demonstrations of how they are being kindly toward me “despite it all”.
    So, no. there is no way and no time that back-biting is ok. And letting it happen in my own house is very distasteful. I think the priority is not to be smooth. But to put one’s foot down and say STOP. What about all the sexist jokes that people just accept because they don’t want to kill the mood. They don’t want to be spoil-sports….Well, it is not right. And this weakness is what leads to everyone just accepting this behaviour all the time. It is our fault.
    But again, I am quick to judge and put my foot down when others back-bite. Yes, I feel very righteous and holy. But I do it myself. So I need to get my act up and start thinking of who I love most. My reputation as being submissive and easy-going? My comfort Or my love for Him?

  28. kbld May 13, 2015 5:22 pm 28

    My reaction would first of all depend on the truth. It would be ridiculous not to admit that someone has these great flaws if it obvious. If what is said is not true, then you have to defend the person, if not, you should say nothing.
    If it is true and I am asked to participate, I would, in my words but also in my in my attitude, show that 1) I admit that she might have some flaws, using euphemisms 2) I am not in the mood for gossiping, that it is obvious, in this case that she had helped me, if true that she has qualities too. In short, not lie and admit the truth, but not directly spoil the fun.
    If it doesn’t (they continue whithout me to gossip), start the conversation with one person, then it might naturally aggregate others.
    The most important in those cases in to have done one’s best.

    1. kbld May 18, 2015 10:27 am 28.1

      Perhaps I was not clear on one point. When I say that it depends on the Truth, it is because I would not lie anyway. I mean, if what is said is false, there is no hesitation, she should say (kindly) that what they say is not true.

      1. David May 31, 2015 12:05 am 28.1.1

        Dear kbld,

        But it still leaves me asking about your second statement:
        “It would be ridiculous not to admit that someone has these great flaws if it obvious.”

        Is that not what avoiding back-biting is all about, not shining the light on the flaws of others?

      2. kbld Jun 01, 2015 12:31 pm 28.1.2

        Dear David,

        First of all, I am not a specialist at all of that subject, so I do not know.
        What I /think/ anyway is that the Truth is conveyed by truths. I am not saying that if a flaw is true, she has to actively point out how much it is, but that I do not think she should deny it. I would rather admit the truth but say at the same time other truths, like the fact that it is pointless to point it out or that she has positive sides too.
        When we systematically deny bad things, the positive things we say lose their value, nobody listens, because you always say the same thing.

  29. Tina May 13, 2015 6:01 pm 29

    I would ask my guests to stop for a moment, then I mention a couple of positive attributes my colleague has. by this action, at least I try to swim against the common flow.

  30. mahnaz May 13, 2015 11:06 pm 30

    mb- I would first keep quiet and just listen to them and not make any comments and if they were to insist for me to make a comment, i would tell them no one is perfect and we all make mistakes and we should all be more tolerant toward each other and try our best to be much more forgiving, and even if someone upsets us to reply to them with love and forgiveness so as to open their eyes to the fact that we are a true friend and will remain their friend even though they are not perfect, because everyone can learn from their mistakes.

  31. Millie May 14, 2015 2:01 am 31

    At first I would have followed along the lines of Julliette. However as the discussion became more mean spirited I would have pointed out that the shoe could easily be on the other foot and we should treat others the same as we would want to be treated

  32. L May 14, 2015 2:30 am 32

    Why not to clearly say:”Don’t you think that by saying these things, which we would clearly feel uncomfortable mentioning in front of her, we are backbiting? why not talk about ourselves instead. She actually has been very helpful to others, including me – I owe her my success in my job”

  33. Bardy May 14, 2015 5:13 am 33

    In my opinion the correct thing to do is to confront them and at least try to be fair. But unfortunately, in action I usually stay quiet at best!

  34. NM May 15, 2015 1:48 am 34

    I do not believe that “silence means consent” necessarily. I think she did the right thing by not trying to get involved in the conversation. Discussions can become heated quickly when people have opposing views. An appropriate way to defend the person and not prolong the backbiting any further would be to say something like, “She gave me my first chance professionally and I will forever be grateful” and no longer engage in the topic with them.

  35. Nikki May 15, 2015 3:36 am 35

    Our intentions have an effect on the outcome of our actions. you can feel the difference. the things you say and do are more positive when your intention is good . If I heard someone backbiting, regardless of whether of not the absent party was someone who did me a favor, not only would I be silent but I would also make a positive comment about him/her in a rather friendly way to defend him/her. and also I would change the subject if I could.

  36. Pedro May 15, 2015 10:47 am 36

    One of the earlier comments suggests an interesting tactic that maybe only works in certain situations: pushing the others to make worse comments so that they themselves then begin to defend the person.
    There is an episode on Frasier, Season 2 Episode 10 “Burying a Grudge,” where Marty can’t stop back-biting about this former colleague from the police. It becomes an obsession and he won’t go and visit him at the hospital because of a whole list of reasons. Then Daphne sits down with Marty and begins to agree with him on all the faults and adds to the comments by saying she doesn’t see how anyone could be friends with him etc. But Marty then begins to defend him and starts bringing up examples of wonderful things he did that actually point to his being a great guy…
    Then of course Frasier himself makes Marty believe that the colleague at the hospital had died….misleading him intentionally when it is the car that actually died…and Marty rushes to the hospital and we realise that the “bad blood” between them was based on a misunderstanding.
    So maybe, a lot of our “bad blood” and our perceptions of others are based on partial knowledge of the truth also.
    In any case, this is an amusing TV sequence of people trying to make someone stop back biting.

    1. adissam Jun 04, 2015 1:17 pm 36.1

      Thanks for this “in vivo” TV example. It’s a funny sequence indeed.

  37. Red May 15, 2015 4:37 pm 37

    I would take Juliette’s approach. Depending on the guests, I would add one or more of the following approaches: either jokingly say “enough backbiting… let’s move onto A, B or C;” OR while I’m silent, I would also show that I wasn’t happy with where the conversation was going; OR I would talk about her positive sides while I worked for that person; OR I would start a whole other conversation with one or two people and continue that conversation and hope that others would start listening and also joining in the conversation.

    1. adissam Jun 10, 2015 1:29 pm 37.1

      I like the silent feedback strategy: “show that I’m not happy with where the discussion is going”

      It can temper the spiral of criticisms without hurting anyone.

  38. Coco May 17, 2015 6:37 pm 38

    I found myself getting mired down by the details of this scenario but it seems to me there is a formula I can come back to. First our intention must be His satisfaction, second we should ask for divine guidance and third we should take some action.

    After taking the first two steps, in such a circumstance, ideally, I think I should 1) say something positive about the subject of the backbiting in an attempt to mitigate the negative impression in peoples’ minds by offering them a more positive one and then 2) make an attempt to change the subject. How one does this does not matter for He can put His effect into anything He chooses. The most important things are our intention, asking for His help and making a sincere effort. We must leave the results in His hands.

    1. David May 31, 2015 12:16 am 38.1

      Thank you Coco! Your excellent comment is the quintessence of the entire forum and is what I will remember from this discussion. To the point, practical, and true. Great work!

  39. hp May 18, 2015 3:17 am 39

    I believe one has a particular responsibility toward, and owes particular respect to, people that have been part of one’s educational or transformational events in life.

    Given that this person has helped Juliette significantly in the past, she should have tried to turn around the conversation to show more of a positive side of that person. E.g.: “Let’s not only look at her negative side. I have worked with her in the past, and I can confirm that she [ … ] and [ … ].”

  40. LA May 19, 2015 7:21 pm 40

    So very grateful for this scenario that occurs very often when we socialize in professional settings.
    Many times I categorize such comments as backbiting, for I hear them take place when the individual concerned Is absent, however, I also find myself attempting to not pass such judgment If the statements are truly factual and therefore His guidance as to not exacerbate the negative and on the contrary convey the positive on the person involved prevails and appeases my conscience.

  41. Pooyan May 22, 2015 6:44 am 41

    If I was in a similar situation, I would try to change the subject by adding some sense of humour, for example I would say, in a very friendly manner: “Ok guys, enough backbiting now let’s have some ice-cream!” In this way I have exercised my due diligence and I also didn’t offend my guests. Depending on their reaction, later, I would add more or less sense of humour, or if I feel they can take it, I’d get a little more serious. Bottom line is, if my intention is Divine satisfaction, and if I just remind myself of this fact and ask Him to put me in the right direction before I open my mouth to say something, the situation will overwhelmingly change in my favor.

  42. Jay May 22, 2015 8:14 pm 42

    I think the cocktail of the “professional and friends” setting makes this a difficult situation. If you were solely in the company of family and friends, you could simply tell them that you do not want to backbite…

    I have a similar experience as Juliette: I had just started to work in a new place and I had been there for about 2 months. One day at lunch my colleagues started to backbite the boss: First on a professional point of view and slowly on her private life and the conversation became very mean. I then defended the boss but the others did not like it, and they said to me “are you sucking up to her”. My conclusion after that was, that I should not have said anything and walked out the room.

    In Juliette’s case I think she should do something extreme to draw away the attention. For example dropping the cake on somebody “as an accident”. This way the good atmosphere the guests are having will not go away and it will probably change the topic of the conversation.

    1. Jay May 23, 2015 7:56 pm 42.1

      I think it is worse to speak badly behind the back of a friend then a boss. A few years ago I was somewhere and found out that some of the people there knew one of my friends, which I have known since first grade. My old friend had a business and the people I came to talk with had used her services. They were talking about her and I mentioned some things about her private life.
      My old friend latter found out about this and became upset with me, and she trusts me less now.

  43. Juneone May 23, 2015 2:58 pm 43

    I am thinking, especially because that person did something that really helped her, she should make a point to point out her kindness. I probably would have said something just to try and change the conversation, and try to be in vivo. But I wouldn’t be looking to change everyone’s mind about her, because I don’t know if maybe the person did something rotten to these pple and that is causing some kind of reaction. These things are hard, but when. I am experiencing them, I just imagine that, at some point, my weaknesses have caused someone some pain too, and I would hope that I would not be judged entirely on my weak points.


  44. yocto May 23, 2015 6:01 pm 44

    I feel like a retard on this forum. I don’t know but real life is different, it is not that simple. One week before he left to D.C. for a better job, my boss called me into his office and crushed me like a bug as if I am nothing.

    Fast forward, for four months I kept my mouth shut and said nothing to anyone, until we got invited to a dinner. It was a small gathering of three of my present co-workers, two or three consultants who work for us and a couple of others for the occasion to say goodbye to another colleague who was leaving.

    At the dinner table the conversation led to my ex-boss and the host who is a former colleague of mine and used to work closely with him said his problem was that he was narrow minded. One of my present colleagues who I know had problems with my ex-boss and also worked closely with him said “No that, was NOT his problem, his problem was…” and she stopped, she was looking for the right word, I think she was gauging the situation and wanted to be diplomatic. It was a perfect storm. I lost it, took the chance and completed her sentence by saying “his problem was that he was a jerk.” There you go I said it and it felt really good! I was hearing laughter and oohs and one colleague said and you know what it means when such statement comes from yocto, another said because yocto gives everyone the benefit of the doubt.

    Now the problem is that I still don’t feel so bad about what I said. I think he deserved it.

    1. Jay May 23, 2015 7:45 pm 44.1

      Maybe it is legitimate to speak badly about all bosses?

    2. bani May 23, 2015 8:14 pm 44.2

      So fun to read your comment LOL. I think you did the right thing and should not feel bad about it. I think I would have done the same thing.
      But here, in this article, the scenario is differnet.

    3. run May 29, 2015 12:35 pm 44.3

      I think when your boss, as you yourself put it, crushed you it was your ego and pride that was hurt. So here you had the opportunity to practice in vivo, so in your case it could for example be to just stay silent.

    4. ami Jun 09, 2015 4:03 pm 44.4

      On the positive side, your colleagues were surprised to hear those words coming from you.
      When this happened to me, it took me a while to find the source of it.

      Still, I’m not immune to fail, that’s why I ask for His help. For example, when I ask the One to “protect me”, what I really mean is “protect me [from myself, from my ego]”.

  45. D. May 24, 2015 9:31 am 45

    This is what I would say in this situation:

    I personally enjoyed working with her ( not participating in the negative part of the conversation) because she was nice to me and she gave me my first professional opportunity (saying something positive about her)… everyone makes professional/personal mistakes and we don’t know everything about thise case. It’s not nice to attack this person since he/she is not present to explain why he/she did that… (defending) I would have made simmilar mistakes and in fact one time I did this and that (shifting the subject to a person who is present) …

    I’d also try to create an atmosphere that makes it uncomfortable for the guests to continue talking about the subject by making a joke or something. Like: I’m glad I did’nt make that mistake because you guys are like killing the guy right now …

    I think these little efforts are better than staying silent and good enough morally; anything more than that would go beyond our duty, in my opinion at least.

  46. Sam Jun 02, 2015 9:26 am 46

    This is a great anecdote! In hindsight everything is 20/20 and it becomes easy being a “monday morning quarterback”, but truth be told I’m not sure if I would have the courage to say something directly to prevent the conversation from going forward. Thinking about the scenario, I do think that I would have a moral obligation to intervene and prevent the backbiting from continuing, especially in the context that this person has benefited me in the past. However, this is easier said than done. In a setting where the leader of a group has everyone else rallied and united in talking negatively about a person, it becomes difficult being the sole voice of opposition, especially if it involves people in my professional life. I would hope that if asked directly about my opinion, that I would say that my experience with this person was a positive one and I feel indebted to them for giving me this or that opportunity and that I am surprised about the negative feeling and perception that exists.

  47. juliet Jun 02, 2015 9:39 pm 47

    Juliette should have started defending this person. I think Ostad Elahi’s recommendation in such case is that if you know that what is being said is false it is your responsibility to defend the person, and if you know that what is being said is true then you should keep silent.

    Juliette knew they were wrong about that person so she should have defended her no matter what.

  48. R. Jun 05, 2015 9:31 pm 48

    I think Juliette should’ve commented positively about the person. However I think when others are backbiting, we are not supposed to judge the backbiters either. So I think the best thing to do was not to criticize them but rather say that she understood their feelings but… And then defend the absent person in a nice way, it would’ve been a good idea to tactfully take the conversation to another subject, like talking about how difficult it is for everyone nowadays not to fail in projects and talk about the obstacles people face these days and ask the guests about their opinion on how to tackle such problems.

    It was interesting reading your comment Yocto, as I have been in a similar situation myself and I did the same thing you did. I can’t say if what you did was right or wrong as every situation is different and intention also plays a big role. But in my case I know I shouldn’t have done that, because I’m not in that ex-boss’s shoes, I mean if for example I know that she has a sick family member to take care of and had a very bad day that day, I would have forgiven her, or other situations or upbringings, difficult childhoods, etc. on the other hand I might have treated her unfairly in a past life and this might be the reaction to my own actions. So I made a mistake commenting negatively about that ex-boss and what’s worse, I didn’t analyze my behavior after my reaction either. You thought about it and are trying to analyze your reaction which is great 🙂

  49. Mona Jun 06, 2015 11:59 pm 49

    I would use humor and in a relaxed way state that this was not my experience with that person and then I would tell them what good qualities or what experiences I had with her and even mention that I got my job through her. Then I would say also again in a relaxed and in a humorous way that therefore, I don’t wish to hear any backbiting about this person.

  50. marc vial Jun 09, 2015 12:07 am 50

    I think that if the statements made by the people at the table are incorrect or exagerated, it is important to intervene. however, such intervention shoudn’t be made on the basis of counterargument, demonstrating the inadequacy or excess. A way would be to open the debate and generalize or conceptualize the context to focus the discussion on how people think what they are talking about should be done, the difficulty of implementation and execution and try to understand some factors faced by the person and the difficulties which made her not necessarily succeed in a way that people would think.

    it is a pointless and boring conversation just talking about what’s wrong if people dont try to elaborate on what’s right, not just conceptually but practically with the associated difficulties.

  51. tom Jan 16, 2018 2:47 pm 51

    Could I propose two scenarios, and determine which is backbiting, and which is considered simply talking to my spouse about a particular situation:

    #1: She was so rude to me, and started saying how she could get my work done better than i could. She used pretty tough language and snickered at me a bit.

    #2: She was so unprofessional and she is not even in my department. i dont think she has the right to tell me how to do my work. also i have worked here longer than she has, and have a higher degree than her.

    What do you think? I think #2 is backbiting in the sense that it gets a bit more terse and mean-spirited. Is that the defining quality? In neither of these two cases would I consider it to be ok to say to someone’s face. So i do not think that is the defining quality of backbiting.

    1. Saga Jan 18, 2018 6:06 pm 51.1

      I think it goes back to ones intention. Do you want to harm the person you’re talking about or do you want to vent and receive feedback from your spouse? If it’s the second and hopefully your spouse is honest in their feedback, you will have a dialogue about what those actions are, how you can stand up against ill mannered behavior, but also to see if you can detect that behavior in yourself. Just a thought.

      1. tom Jan 19, 2018 2:23 pm 51.1.1

        Thanks, Saga! This is a fantastic point. It’s not just what we say, it’s the intention behind it.

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