A couple of years ago, I went through an extremely difficult situation. A misunderstanding was being compounded by past experiences, and a friend of mine was reacting badly—and increasingly so—to every attempt I made to iron things out. I cannot understate the pain of that experience nor the amount of time and energy I poured into it. Every attempt, however well-researched and well-intentioned, seemed to offend this friend, and every token of love I sent was ignored.
One would assume that I would have sought strength and solace in other friends, but I choose to walk this path alone. The two of were, after all, part of an extremely interconnected group of friends. I didn’t know how to talk about this situation without identifying, however unintentionally, the individual in question and slipping inadvertently into backbiting.
But something very interesting happened. As if subconsciously attracted to my pain, other friends, unbidden and unasked, started sharing similar experiences with me. It was easier for them to share because enough time had passed for potent emotions not to have a hold on them anymore, allowing them to not fall down the slippery slope between reflecting and backbiting. Still caught in the maelstrom of mine, I didn’t want to risk passing that line; but I learned a lot through these conversations which greatly helped me navigate those dark times.
A confidence can easily and quickly turn into backbiting when emotions are at their strongest; those darkest of times are the ones during which we can forget certain realities and create false dichotomies. These in turn inspire actions that can negatively impact our personal development as well as the well-being of our communities.
When under attack, we often resort to instinct, and our instinctive understanding of reality seems to be very narrow. We might catch ourselves thinking things such as: “Certainly someone who deals such a harsh blow to us cannot be kind or loving”, thoughts that create barriers to resolution. But with systematic examination and reflection, it can become quite clear that indeed, someone very kind and loving can cause us great pain—because these same people are also imperfect. It isn’t their qualities and virtues that cause them to deal you with such a blow but their limitations. We might also think things such as: “I have been dealt a terrible blow despite the love I have showered on this person, surely it cannot be my fault”. And it isn’t—consciously, that is. But we are also limited; it isn’t far-fetched that our good intentions were based on an erroneous understanding of reality, which caused us to react in a way that did not suit the situation. This higher level of understanding gives way to very different actions.
I believe that those who dealt us harsh blows to our souls either are unaware of the extent of the suffering they have caused or unable to address the injury. But it’s easy to forget this when we are in pain; it becomes even more difficult to remember when we further confuse ourselves with backbiting.
Such experiences involve so many factors that create a ball of sensitive yarn of sorts, with countless knots requiring need patient, meticulous work to undo. This is the kind of work that we cannot do alone; it is vital, then, to learn about the difference between backbiting and reflecting, so that our personal development can proceed without causing an unintentional blow to the fabric of our community.
Image credit: Chad Mauger.