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DETRACTION





TO absolve oneself of the sin of detraction on the ground that nothing
but the truth was spoken is, as we have seen, one way of getting around
a difficulty that is no way at all. Some excuses are better than none,
others are not. It is precisely the truth of such talk that makes it
detraction; if it were not true, it would not be detraction but
calumny--another and a very different fault. It would be well for such
people to reflect for a moment, and ask themselves if their own
character would stand the strain of having their secret sins and
failings subjected to public criticism and censure, their private
shortcomings heralded from every housetop. Would they, or would they
not, consider themselves injured by such revelations? Then it would be
in order for them to use the same rule and measure in dealing with
others.

He who does moral evil offends in the sight of God and forfeits God's
esteem and friendship. But it does not follow that he should also
forfeit the esteem of his fellow-men. The latter evil is nothing
compared with the first; but it is a great misfortune nevertheless. If
a man's private iniquity is something that concerns himself and his
God, to the exclusion of all others, then whosoever presumes to judge
and condemn him trespasses on forbidden ground, and is open to judgment
and condemnation himself before his Maker.

All do not live in stone mansions who throw stones. If there is a mote
in the neighbor's eye, perhaps there is a very large piece of timber in
your own. Great zeal in belaboring the neighbor for his faults will not
lessen your own, nor make you appear an angel of light before God when
you are something very different. If you employed this same zeal
towards yourself, you would obtain more consoling results, for charity
begins at home. One learns more examining one's own conscience than
dissecting and flaying others alive.

It may be objected that since detraction deals with secret sins, if the
facts related are of public notoriety, there is no wrong in speaking of
them, for you cannot vilify one who is already vilified. This is true;
and then, again, it depends. First, these faults must be of public
notoriety. A judicial sentence may make them such, but the fact that
some, many, or a great many know and speak of them will not do it. The
public is everybody, or nearly everybody. Do not take your friends for
the public, when they are only a fraction thereof. If you do you will
find out oftener than it is pleasant that your sins of detraction are
sins of slander; for rumors are very frequently based on nothing more
substantial than lies or distorted and exaggerated facts set afloat by
a calumniator.

Even when a person has justly forfeited, and publicly, the
consideration of his fellowmen, and it is not, therefore, injurious to
his character to speak of his evil ways, justice may not be offended,
but charity may be, and grievously. It is a sin, an uncharity, to harp
on one's faults in a spirit of spite, or with the cruel desire to
maintain his dishonor; to leave no stone unturned in order to
thoroughly blacken his name. In doing this you sin against charity,
because you do something you would not wish to have done unto you.
Justice itself would be violated if, even in the event of the facts
related being notorious, you speak of them to people who ignore them
and are not likely ever to come to a knowledge of them.

If you add, after telling all you know about a poor devil, that he did
penance and repaired his sin, you must not imagine that such atonement
will rehabilitate him in the minds of all. Men are more severe and
unforgiving than God. Grace may be recovered, but reputation is a thing
which, once lost, is usually lost for good. Something of the infamy
sticks; tears and good works will not, cannot wash it away. He,
therefore, who banks too much on human magnanimity is apt to err; and
his erring constitutes a fault.

"But I confided the secret to but one person; and that one a dear
friend, who promised to keep it." Yes, but the injured party has a
right to the estimation of that one person, and his injury consists
precisely in being deprived of it. Besides, you accuse yourself openly.
Either what you said was void of all harm, or it was not. In the one
case, why impose silence! In the other, why not begin yourself by
observing the silence you impose upon others! Your friend will do what
you did, and the ball you set rolling will not stop until there is
nothing left of your victim's character.

Of course there are times when to speak of another's faults is
derogatory neither to justice nor to charity; both may demand that the
evil be revealed. A man to defend himself may expose his accuser's
crookedness; in court his lawyer may do it for him, for here again
charity begins at home. In the interests of the delinquent, to effect
his correction, one may reveal his shortcomings to those who have
authority to correct. And it is even admitted that a person in trouble
of any kind may without sin, for the purpose of obtaining advice or
consolation, speak to a judicious friend of another's evil ways.

Zeal for the public good may not only excuse, but even require that the
true character of a bad man be shown up and publicly censured. Its
object is to prevent or undo evil, to protect the innocent; it is
intended to destroy an evil influence and to make hypocrisy fly under
his own colors. Immoral writers, living or dead, corrupt politicians
and demagogues, unconscionable wretches who prey on public ignorance,
may and should be, made known to the people, to shield them is to share
their guilt. This should not be done in a spirit of vengeance, but for
the sole purpose of guarding the unwary against vultures who know no
law, and who thrive on the simplicity of their hearers.





Next: CALUMNY

Previous: DEFAMATION



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