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The Art of Keeping it Classy Online

 

The world really showed what it wants to be when news outlets recently made the decision to run a partial story. What happened next could have happened to you, your child, your spouse, or another loved one.

How we behave in real life and how we behave online ought to be similar. Let me say that again.

How we behave in real life and how we behave online ought to be similar.

The disconnect between who we are in real life and who we become online (as a society) has become so polarizing in and of itself. I frequently head out into my local community to do mundane stuff, like pick up groceries, go shopping, go to church, meet with friends, order food, etc. I have yet to run into someone in my everyday who behaves like some a lot of the folks I see commenting online. The temptation to stick your oar in is great. When Catholic Sistas began, many of the writers – myself included – had many years of online experience under our belts going in. We had seen quite a bit and witnessed the underbelly of many online forums. Sometimes under the guise of “debate” the discussions quickly devolved into ad hominem attacks. While there are plenty of opportunities to witness for the Catholic Faith, we had to also recognize that the comboxes (slang for comments on blogs/websites) could quickly spiral into occasions of sin, if not outright breeding grounds for dissent. We collectively determined that we would not babysit the comboxes, but instead would put in place a standard for leaving comments, rooted in Christian charity. So, how can we carry ourselves online in these polarizing times in a way that upholds what we believe as Catholics? Here are some quick tips of mine that I’ve developed over the years, going back to 1994 when I was the teenager online.

HOW TO KEEP IT CLASSY

  1. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, then don’t say it to them online. Going back to 2007, I witnessed a once well-respected online community devolve into what could only be described as a public sewer. Under the guise of being called a Debate Team, its original purpose was to engage in constructive conversation involving some hotly debated topics. It started out fine, but eventually became a cesspool that original members began to back out of. The writing was on the wall and people’s true colors came out. But, why had it become such a toxic environment? Was it due to lax rules? Lax leadership? Members constantly pushing the boundaries, stretching the rules in ways that led to the implosion of the group? Or was it simply an indicator that if left unchecked, people would turn to a mob mentality?
  2. Avoid posting on unhappy or angry impulse. Take a step back, wait and pray. Posts/comments should come from joyful experience, sincere curiosity, thoughtful reasoning, tender concern, and lessons learned. In listening to and receiving the thoughts of others, PAUSE before posting/commenting in haste or out of emotion.
  3. You are responsible for your words. Allow them to reflect a spirit of charity, understanding and good will. 
  4. Give special care when writing about your spouse and the Sacrament of Marriage. By matrimony, therefore, the souls of the contracting parties are joined and knit together more directly and more intimately than are their bodies…and from this union of souls by God’s decree, a sacred and inviolable bond arises. Casti Connubii #7. When an issue treads into the sacred realm of marriage, be deferential to different marital styles, always assuming the best of our spouses. Prudential decisions are best left between spouses. 
  5. Respect the differences of personalities and family styles. Intend charity when reading, do not assume offense is intended.
  6. Avoid lying, in all senses of the word. The Church warns us against the danger of lying: through rash judgement (who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor), detraction (who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them), and calumny (who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them).

WAIT! I’ve done all these things before. Now what?

It’s not ok, but…it’s something most of us grapple with. We’ve all slipped and made mistakes. Seek out forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then with those whom you’ve harmed by giving them your apologies and making restitution where possible. You can also read up on the damaging effects of excuses on how to craft an authentic apology.

Lastly, I leave you with this story that makes a rather profound statement of the effects of gossip and its pernicious nature. It is the story of a most unusual penance St. Philip Neri assigned to a woman for her sin of spreading gossip.

The 16th century saint instructed her to take a feather pillow to the top of the church bell-tower, rip it open, and scatter the feathers to the four winds. This probably was not the kind of penance this woman, or any of us, would have been used to. But the penance didn’t end there. Philip Neri gave her a second, and more, difficult task. He told her to come down from the bell-tower and collect all the feathers that had been dispersed throughout the town. The poor woman, of course, couldn’t do it – and that was the point Philip Neri was trying to make in order to underscore the destructive nature of gossip. When we detract from others in our speech, our malicious words are scattered abroad, and cannot be gathered back. They continue to spread dishonour and division in people’s minds days, months, and even years after we have spoken them, as they pass from one tale-bearer to the next.

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8th Commandment Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers Liz Ten Commandments The Crossroads - Where Faith Meets Mental Health

The Danger of Being “Fine”

“I’m fine.”

“Just great!”

“Doing well, thanks.”

No matter how we’re actually feeling or doing, it’s generally considered a matter of American etiquette to put on a cheery face and respond nicely to anybody and everybody we meet who asks the quintessential question of politeness: “How are you?” Even in the face of grief, loss, injury or suffering, you’ll hear folks attempting to respond to the question with as much positivity as they can muster.  It’s almost reflexive.

Have the flu or broke your arm? “Oh, I’m doing OK, really!” 

Just had a 24-hour labor ending in a C-section or finished a round of chemo? “Oh, I’m just a little tired. I’m sure I’ll be on my feet in no time!”

Someone you love passed away? Going through a divorce? “Oh, I’m ‘getting there’ one day at a time!”

While societal customs insist we put on our bravest, happiest attitude for everything from the casual encounter on the street to the concerned inquiry from a friend, are we really doing ourselves any favors by defaulting to “fine?”

 In this Washington Post article from last July, pediatrician Dr. Smita Malhotra talks about shifting her outlook on defaulting to a happy face after she realized she was lying to her young daughter about her feelings.  She comments that, as a physician, she can clearly see the damage that forced positivity has on mental health:

“By constantly telling children to “turn that frown upside down,” our society sends them the message that being sad is almost unnatural. That it is something that needs to be fixed immediately … In my work as a physician I have seen increasing numbers of children and young adults being put on antidepressants. In many cases, these drugs are needed … But sometimes, they are used as a way to avoid dealing with sadness.”

Dr. Malhotra goes on to explain how mindfulness and honesty about one’s own emotions is a healthier choice that leads to greater resilience, more empathy for others and a realization that we do not have to be defined by our feelings.  Her column comes from a secular and medical viewpoint, but her words also have great value for those of us who live the Christian life. What she’s talking about is actually directly related to one of the Ten Commandments. Number Eight, specifically.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Before you go feeling panicked you’ve got one more reason to head to the confessional, let’s put the brakes on for a moment.

It’s not a mortal sin to let “I’m just fine,” slip out of your mouth when someone asks you how you’re feeling.  And it’s not immoral to want to protect others from your own suffering, or keep your personal problems private, or put on a happy face, or make the best out of any bad situation.  The Catechism summarizes the Eighth Commandment as “forbid[ding] misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others.”  It defines a lie as “speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.”  It also makes clear that intention and circumstances often define the gravity of a fib, and that we’re never bound to reveal information to someone who has “no right to know it.”

But it’s also not being needy, or too negative, or a “complainer” to be politely open and honest with anyone, even a stranger, who asks what’s going on in your life.  In fact, this approach has a lot of spiritual benefits to recommend it.

Displaying our mental, physical and spiritual wounds to those who inquire about them grows us in humility and truthfulness.  It makes us vulnerable like Christ was vulnerable, but it also allows others the chance to be Christ by ministering to our needs.  It opens up channels of trust by allowing others in our lives to see our true selves, and it helps us all dispel the widespread and anti-Christian societal illusion that the only people worth associating with are the ones who “have it all together.”

So the next time you’re having a bad day and someone asks you how you are, pause a moment and considering answering more honestly.

“I’m struggling a little today.”

“Oh, my heart hurts over the things going on in the world.”

“I’m working on feeling positive this morning, but I’m not there yet.”

“Not so well. Actually, could you help me with this?”

You might feel needy and awkward, but you might also find God’s comfort and love hiding in an unexpected place. 

And that is just fine.

RESOURCES

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}