One of the most overlooked wrongs in this time is the sin of calumny.  This is also known as backbiting, talking behind someone’s back, gossiping, and telling stories (even if they are true) to ruin the reputation of their neighbor.  I think this has to be one of the most easiest sin to commit, and yet one of the hardest sins to break.  A person can be free of all other vices, but still manage to suffer from this one.  So, let’s get into what this is, and how it can be damaging.

All of this is an offense the 8th Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

What is Calumny?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Detractor and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor.  Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to honor of his name and reputation and to respect.  Thus detraction and calumny offends against the virtues of justice and charity. (2479).

Meaning, that anything that we say about another person reputation, even if it is the truth, will be harming their honor and good name.  We destroy that person’s reputation by sharing information about that person that the other party was not made aware of.

How does this behavior causes us to lose respect for our neighbor?

  1. Rash judgment — When we draw conclusions about a person’s motives and assume them as true, without all the information necessary to draw that conclusion.
  2. Detractions — without a valid reason, disclose another person’s fault and failings to another person who did not know them.
  3. Calumny — remarks that are not true that harms the reputation of others, and could lead to false judgments regarding them.

What is the difference between venting and crossing the line?

There are times when we are going to want to vent about a problem, of course when we speak out in anger, we are opening ourselves up to near occasions of sin–and calumny would be no different.

What starts off as letting some steam off about a situation, turns into a tirade about how the person involved did them wrong.  Then it turns into how they did everything wrong, and then to make sure that the person whom we’re talking to agrees with us, we start to disclose something that they did, or said to someone who had no knowledge of it.

We know when we crossed the line when our anger dissipates, but the person whom we talked to now has a negative view about the other person.  Their view of them has been tainted, and due to our actions, we harmed the name of a person who didn’t have the opportunity to defend themselves.

I have seen this happen to those that I love countless times.  Something goes wrong, and then venting and anger discussions begins.  How they “never” did anything for the person who is “injured” and how the person being talked about is, “ungrateful” and “selfish.”  Whomever this person talks to, spreads this poison to anyone who listens.

Sadly, the person whom they were talking to is not out of harms way, because the minute they don’t do what this detractor wants, they too are thrown under the bus, and their reputation is dragged in the mud.  The cycle continues until everyone knows something negative about each other.

How does this harm ourselves and others?

The harm affects us and others immediately.  We are deeply affected because even if we didn’t actively engage in talking behind someone’s back, we could also be guilty of not stopping it.  By not stopping it, we too are engaging in the behavior (by condoning it), and the words that the detractor says becomes part of our memory.  How then we we treat the person with the respect they deserve if in the back of our minds we know all the “hidden secrets” about them?

The other person who has been defamed is affected because almost immediately, they are going to notice something wrong in our reception of them.  They may not know what is wrong, but they will detect a coldness that would be hard to hide.  In the long run, calumny will cause wedges in relationships, distrust among loved ones grows and relationships die.

Many times we don’t know the full implications our words have on one another especially their perception that our neighbor has.  One word, said out of anger or an exaggerated lie will have far more repercussions than we can ever imagine.  Once we cross that line, we have to work extra to restore their reputation.

I’ll leave you with this:

Trying to undo the harm that our words caused is difficult as trying to find all the feathers of a pillow that has been blown away by the wind.

We may tell just one person, but it almost always never ends with that person.