Civility and Communication in the Internet Age

Today was going along just fine — productive, happy, and relatively stress free — until a certain email crossed my desk.

The name and subject of the email will be withheld so that hopefully I can forget this dialogue ever happened. Suffice it to say, I read the initial email which was a request for action. I held it in my inbox, not responding as I was working on other items, and soon received a second email. The second email contained a renewed request, more strongly worded than the first. Without pausing to pray, I concluded the action that had been requested and fired off a relatively curt response. The two initial emails were “filed”, taking them away from my attention.

About thirty minutes later, I received a third email, offering an apology. The emailer felt that they surely must have offended me, to receive such an officious response. This emailer knew me well enough to note that an email containing not a single “!” or “lol” was surely out of character.

Emails flew back and forth between the two of us, apologizing for offending and having been offended. I fessed up to an overabundance of work and tried to lighten the mood, but in reality I actually was offended. In the end, I prayed, for the emailer, and for my own forgiveness in having overreacted.

Oh what a tangled web we weave with our modern forms of communication. So easy to jump to false conclusions, so quick to judge and be judged. So simple to “write off” relationships simply because we’ll likely never meet in real life. So many words, so little true feeling…

The interaction has me feeling a bit dirty and a lot in need of the Sacrament of Penance.

Was it my fault? Who knows.

Will I let it happen again any time soon? Hopefully not.

How do you avoid miscommunication in your online endeavors?

Lisa Hendey, Catholic wife and mom, is the founder and webmaster of and the author of A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms: 52 Companions for Your Heart, Mind, Body and Soul and The Handbook for Catholic Moms: Nurturing Your Heart, Mind, Body and Soul. Lisa writes for several online and print publications, enjoys speaking around the country and hosts the Catholic Moments Podcast. Visit her at

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  1. I don’t answer to emails late at night or outside of regular business hours.

    I take a break once in a while to read a prayer, or at least give thanks to God for the work accomplished.

    I get away from my desk and at least walk around the office or try to interact with peers.

    I also recognize that email is limited in capturing human emotion or intent, and that I should acknowledge the emotions but not go there. Keep focused on the problem and remember that all email communication could be even used in court nowadays or come back to haunt you online.

  2. Wherever there is strife in relationship, at least one person’s Sinner is at play. I start by presuming that Sinner is mine and seek to root it out (the virtues of humility and charity are always good ways to do that). Yet, at a certain point, it can become clear that the leading Sinner lies in the other person. Do I shake the dust off my feet and move on to the next village? Or do I engage them on the Road to Emmaus, naming their choices as foolish, and offering teaching to invitationally help them forward?

    Matthew 18:15-17 offers superlative, challenging, advice: ““If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”

    New American Bible. 2011 (Revised Edition) (Mt 18:15–17). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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