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COLLECTIONNewspaper articles
TITLEWe shouldn't occupy ourselves with the faults of others
AUTHOR 1Ted Slavin
TITLE_PARENTSt. Catharines Standard
CITY_THISSt. Catharines, Ontario
ABSTRACTBahá'ís are encouraged to speak well of others, avoid back-biting, and follow the examples of the Manifestations and Abdu'l-Bahá.
NOTES Mirrored with permission of author from
CONTENT At one of the first jobs I had coming out of university -- a communications intern-- a co-worker playfully called me a "fence-sitter."

There were two reasons for this. The first was because of my desk's vantage point. The mauve monstrosity resembled a fortress, plunked in the middle of a wide hallway with filing cabinets and the finance department flanking either side. Originally, the desk had served as the company's reception desk. Its chest-height walls were a visual cue for visitors to stop at this beast, cower and state their business. With a budget increase (which, sadly, had no impact on my income), a new, trendy, black-brown reception desk was purchased and I was given the mauve beast.

My view from the hall let me see every office entrance, including a sweet angle in on the boardroom's food table when the door was open. Coworkers would call me after board meetings to confirm the quality and composition of catered leftovers before we casually wandered in to scavenge together.

With treats in hand and mouth, we'd saunter back to the mauve beast where my regulars would gather 'round, leaning upon its ramparts for our spontaneous coffee break. My desk was the office water cooler. Discussions of Seinfeld episodes, sports highlights and world events mixed and swirled together like the cherry and fudge in the cheesecakes I consumed.

It was during these encounters that the second meaning of my being a "fence-sitter" started. I steered clear of the conversations that involved office politics and criticism. I did this because there were many benefits to avoiding the gossip, particularly the faultfinding kind, in a workplace. This understanding came out of a simple, practical reality that with a small office community, any backbiting will damage the relationships of your team.

For Bahá'ís, the spiritual standard of abstaining from fault-finding is very high. Bahá'í teachings are uncompromising on this point, more than any teaching Bahá'ís follow. In His writings, Bahá'u'lláh went to great lengths to make it clear that He means all He says when he calls us to regard "...backbiting as grievous error." He explains that when we occupy ourselves with the faults of others, we put out the light in our hearts and extinguish the life of the soul.

This is, perhaps, nothing new to many of us. Christ and Muhammad spoke very strongly condemning backbiting, even when it concerns those we may see as our enemies. To have God's Messengers condemn it again and again might indicate that a) it must be pretty important and b) we are slow learners. One thing I can say for certain from personal experience is that it's a standard that's not always easily followed, given how accustomed our society is to faultfinding. It's a bad habit that is rooted in how we tend to carry conversations, both with friends and strangers.

Bahá'u'lláh's son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, was the perfect example of how a Bahá'í should be. His perspective on changing one's mindset from the fault-finding habit was worded as to "...look always at the good and not at the bad. If a man has 10 good qualities and one bad one, to look at the 10 and forget the one; and if a man has 10 bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the 10."

Can 'Abdu'l-Bahá's words relate to any workplace? I think it's worth the effort to find out. Since the days of the mauve beast, I have worked with many people and sampled a lot of catering. I've also been in workplaces that have been either supportive and encouraging or heavy with backbiting and criticism.

No matter the task given to me, doing a job while remembering 'Abdu'l-Bahá's words ensured that most of the workdays were good ones. For the bad days, they guaranteed a shoulder to lean on.
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