Towards promoting a culture of respect, dialogue, and friendship
“If our heart is inwardly troubled and disturbed, it loses both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues it acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy.”
--St. Francis de Sales
Take Up & Read:
Over the past few weeks, we have considered what is essential to holiness. I think we can all readily agree that social media isn’t essential. We don’t need it in order to be saints. It is, however, a well-established part of everyday life in the twenty-first century. So, perhaps the question becomes not one of whether social media is essential, but what is essential for someone who wants to behave as a saint while navigating the wilds of the Internet.
Holiness is peaceful. The path to being peaceful is one that is dotted with choices, and our choices directly determine our peace. Recollected followers of Christ evaluate their choices prayerfully, discern with wisdom, and choose the path to holiness, even if it’s just that momentary decision about whether to read a Twitter thread or do the dishes instead.
There is no question that social media is replete with opportunities to trouble our souls and to lead us away from a recollected life. Chief among the temptations is the one to compare your life on a bad day to the highlight reels of strangers on the Internet. How easily we fall into that trap! There’s no way to sugarcoat it: avoiding the pitfalls of social media requires discipline. It requires strength of virtue. It requires the full armor of God.
Mindfully consider your patterns of use. How do you let social media into your life? Do you plan for it with intention or do you fall into it by default? Once there, who are you online? Are you a disconnected Peeping Tom or are you a woman with the heart of Christ, pursuing souls with the intention of loving them? Sounds lofty, but if we truly stop to think about it, social media, at its best, is a tool for connection, and we want to connect in ways that are authentic and wholly charitable.
Curating your feed is essential to holiness. Each and every place you engage online should be a carefully considered opportunity to grow in sanctity. Again, it sounds like overthinking something trivial, but when you consider that the average woman spends two and a half hours a day on social media and messaging platforms, we need to consider who we are listening to during that time, and how we are allowing them to shape us.
If you follow “influencers,” do you want to be under their influence? Do you want those voices to have access to your heart two hours a day? When social media becomes a purely passive thing, and we follow people with whom we’ve never had a conversation, we miss the ways to answer a call to love; we merely consume someone’s persona without regard to their souls.
Consider your obligation to respond to the story behind a post. If you follow so many people that you couldn’t possibly respond with kind generosity to their stories, maybe you follow too many people. Slow down next time you’re online and consider each post carefully. Ask yourself if you remember why you followed that person in the first place. Ask if you know one cross they bear in their lives. Then, ask if you’ve helped to carry that cross, even if only in silent prayer. Do you know the stories? Do you care? If not, perhaps it’s time to consider the gluttony that is an overfilled social media feed.
When you close your social media tabs, are you filled with light and hope? Do you look into your real world inspired and resolved to live fully as God has called you? Be very honest with yourself. Social media can cause despair. It can invoke anger. It can distract and disturb and disgust. Like anything we consume, it is incumbent upon us to master the media. Make good choices. Choose what nourishes you.
Frankly, like food or alcohol or nicotine, social media can be addictive. We refresh or affirm the prompt to go follow, or we scroll a bit longer because we’re hoping to find that something that hits the right spot. And when we behave in the way that very crafty designers of very clever platform hope we will, we get a shot of dopamine and that makes us want to stay even longer. As with any addictive substance, different people handle the temptations differently. Some of us need strict constraints and serious accountability to keep us from falling headlong into the abyss. Some people can take it or leave it without much effort. It is important that you know your own tendencies. If you are someone who struggles, you really need a battle plan because social media marketing geniuses are targeting you. You’re in the crosshairs. Act accordingly.
To do over the course of a few quiet sessions with your Bible:
Carefully read each of the passages for this week separately, but as you pray through them think about what the Holy Spirit could be saying in light of social media specifically. Together with Scripture, prayerfully consider what the Church has to say about time online. Begin here, with Pope Benedict in 2009:
The desire for connectedness and the instinct for communication that are so obvious in contemporary culture are best understood as modern manifestations of the basic and enduring propensity of humans to reach beyond themselves and to seek communion with others. In reality, when we open ourselves to others, we are fulfilling our deepest need and becoming more fully human. Loving is, in fact, what we are designed for by our Creator. Naturally, I am not talking about fleeting, shallow relationships, I am talking about the real love that is at the very heart of Jesus’ moral teaching: "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" and "You must love your neighbour as yourself" (cf. Mk 12:30-31). In this light, reflecting on the significance of the new technologies, it is important to focus not just on their undoubted capacity to foster contact between people, but on the quality of the content that is put into circulation using these means. I would encourage all people of good will who are active in the emerging environment of digital communication to commit themselves to promoting a culture of respect, dialogue and friendship. [emphasis in the original]
How will you, personally, improve the quality of the content that is put into circulation and promote a culture of respect, dialogue, and friendship online?
Some Helpful Beauty for You to Print
Here are some printables that we think will help you ponder with your pen as you get started this week.
And here is the complete set of Grace Notes for this month if you’d like to print them for a notebook. (Each of these essays will be introduced on the blog one week at a time, but they are gathered here for your convenience)