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Among the thousand reasons that can lead to the collapse of a couple, a family, a company, a football team, an association, a political party, a city, a country, or any other form of human community, there is one that is too often underestimated: backbiting, that terrible behaviour which consists, for each member of a group, in saying to third parties, in a repeated and habitual way, bad things about the other members of this group.

Thus, when a father speaks ill of his spouse or children to his friends, when a leader of a political party criticises the competence of his colleagues in the same party in front of journalists, when the manager of a company reveals some weaknesses of his organisation to clients or suppliers, or when the citizen of a country systematically complains about his fellow citizens in front of foreigners.

Backbiting may not seem important. In reality, it is a slow poison. “The daughter of self-love and idleness”, said Voltaire, it begins when we show an excess of vanity, or no longer share common projects with others; it continues when we listen with complacency to the slanders distilled by others; It takes off when one repeats the gossip one has heard, amplifying it; it explodes when the members of the group who are victims of it, and who always end up being informed of what the other members of the group say about them, refuse to make the slightest effort for those who have defamed them and to share the same struggle with them. Then the group, the family, the party, the company, the nation is finished.

Take a good look around you; isn’t this what happens all too often? Are we not, all of us, very often tempted to slander?  Are we not unaware of the risk of seeing slander come back at us like a boomerang and deprive us of essential allies?  Is this not what announces the beginning of the end, and not only the end of the beginning?   Is it not all around us?

Faced with this mortal danger, which will destroy all forms of organisation, there are only two answers:

Either give up trusting each other, and cling to the success of a leader, on whom everything then depends. This was the case in the old family organisation, around the all-powerful father.  Or in the company, when the owner of the capital still holds all the power.  Or in political parties, when they are no longer more than the expression of an individual ambition to which others add their own, without building a collective project between them. This return to pyramidal organisations, devoid of any meaning other than the success of a leader who distributes crumbs of his gains to his followers, makes the group invulnerable to backbiting: the backbiting of the henchmen has little influence on the success of the leader. The slander disappears, but the dictatorship is established. This explains, for example, why so many political parties have become nothing more than power machines for an individual.

Or to recreate the confidence of all in a common project, freely consented, nourishing a desire to live a shared future, provoking empathy of each member of the group for all the others. This leads them to put aside their slander in order to build together. A certain form of tolerance, indulgence and listening among all is then born.  Here again, slander disappears, but this time it is democracy that is strengthened.

When neither of these two conditions is fulfilled, when there is neither a recognised leader nor a common project, the family or political organisation is plagued by slander and ends up exploding.

To get out of the dilemma, to avoid living in societies of slander or in dictatorships, we must do everything possible to revive common projects that transcend petty quarrels. Social, environmental, political or cultural projects.

Seeing what is happening at the moment at all levels of many contemporary Western societies, which are no longer anything more than fictions of liberal democracy, increasingly subject to a few adventurers in business or politics, it is hard to believe in their future. Let us never forget this. In order not to be ravaged by slander or dictatorship, we must have the courage to tolerate each other and to build a common future together.