A recent post here on Integrated Catholic Life echoed what I have been thinking about social media lately. Sister Laus Gloriae reminded us of the many sins of the tongue and gave us remedies for overcoming them. As I looked over the list, I thought of how many have been exacerbated, expedited, and assisted by social media.
I was speaking with a good friend about a controversy that has erupted around our alma mater. The more we talked about the pain and misunderstanding that was flowing freely among alumni and faculty and staff, the more frustrated I got that many of these conversations were happening on Facebook. How much would be different if we were speaking face-to-face in the same room? If we took time to listen and understand the other side, rather than yell and rush to judgment?
What would be different if we had to speak the hurtful words we typed? Would we speak differently if we looked at eyes rather than screens?
I hope so.
I love the opportunities that social media has brought us. I love the connections we can make and the insights we can gain. But I often find myself wondering if it’s worth it all.
It’s a place where it’s easier to call people names than bear wrongs patiently. Calumny and libel flow easily. Judgments are rushed to a decision before anyone has time to explain or ask questions. We sit in our little thrones of self-righteousness, deciding what people meant by that post or tweet and judging them accordingly. People are profiles and handles instead of souls and bodies.
Sister’s guidance for overcoming sins of the tongue needs to be applied when it comes to our social media activity as well. Pray for the grace to recognize sins of the tongue (or fingers and thumbs!), and pray for the grace to stay silent. Think twice before firing off that tweet or Facebook post. Would I say that to the person’s face? Am I passive-aggressively sharing a tweet or a post so that someone will see it and be hurt? Are my tweets and posts building a civilization of love or a culture of divisiveness?
When we are reading people’s timelines, tweets, or comments, we should also remember what the Catechism reminds us regarding offenses against the eighth commandment:
“Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor…To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way.” (CCC 2477-2478)
What does this mean? It means giving people the benefit of the doubt. Rather than assuming we know their thoughts and intentions and judging them badly for it, we should assume we don’t know them. The Catechism quotes St. Ignatius of Loyola’s important advice from his Spiritual Exercises:
“Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.”
And most of the time, those “suitable ways,” are not firing back a snarky comment or tweet.
If you’re active on social media, let us together make resolutions to be positive and joyful- not in a fake way, but in the peace that comes from following Christ. Let us make concrete decisions to remain silent when we need to remain silent, and if we need to speak, to do so with charity.
Let us win back all things for love. Even social media.