The past several months of this year have been exceptionally hard to watch, as friends and family seem to quickly and easily tear each other apart. Assassinations of character, name-calling, ad hominum attacks, and vitriol seem to be spewed with nary a thought of a backward glance. All across social media, the push to speak first, think after seems to be prevalent, and the share buttons seem to promote use of simply sharing what best suits our own narrative, rather than considering the point of view of friends who may not hold that same viewpoint.
We all seem to be in a rush to drown out the other person, without taking the time to not just hear the words of the other person, but to slow down and identify the true intent behind that person’s beliefs. Social media, of late, is simply a tool being used to air grievances, ills, snarkiness, and ugliness.
There used to be an unspoken social norm that said, whenever engaging in public discourse with someone outside your home, “Never discuss money, politics, sex, or religion.” Yet, in today’s world, it seems as though we have all waded into a hotbed of discussion, with no preparation in understanding the best way forward in a debate is to listen to the opponent’s argument – both spoken, and unspoken.
And, our relationships are suffering because of our inability to listen… to truly hear each other.
Left and right we are witnessing our friends and family on social media tout their message, while lambasting those who do not agree.
This lack of voice has left many feeling downtrodden, depressed, and silenced.
This is precisely where the devil wants us.
Matthew 7:19-20 reminds us, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.”
The uncomfortable question to ask ourselves is not where we stand on any given issue; rather, the question to ask is are our actions – spoken and unspoken, in real life or on social media – bearing good fruit?
What are these fruits? The list of bad fruit, or “works of the flesh,” is found in Galatians 5:19-21 and include, “… hatreds… jealously… outbursts of fury… dissensions, factions..” and more.
Yet, the good fruits, or the fruit of the Holy Spirit, are, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
There is a time and a place to correct someone for their sins. After all, we are given the task as Catholics to perform Spiritual Works of Mercy, in addition to the Corporal Works of Mercy, which include admonishing sinners and instructing the ignorant.
However, many of us have forgotten the other Catholic Spiritual Works of Mercy: Bear patiently those who wrong us, forgive offences, and comfort the afflicted.
In an effort to prove our way is the best and most correct, we find ourselves speaking over, and forgetting the patience, the forgiveness, and the comfort to which we are called to share.
As faithful Christians, we are reminded blatantly in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”
Going back to the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the Spiritual Works of Mercy, the guidance in 1 Corinthians is sound, but is also sometimes a hard pill to swallow.
How do we extend love to others, when we are interested in getting our own viewpoint heard, or even convince others of our approach to situations?
We tread softly, gently and silently.
We assess the situation.
We determine which battle we want to choose to fight and champion.
We remember the adage that God gave us one mouth to speak, and two ears to listen, and we employ that saying as we approach the situation.
We employ the cardinal virtue of prudence, which challenges us to, “discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1806).
We recognize the bad fruit trying to sway our country toward further division, hatred, and violence. Satan operates under darkness, and in secrecy, to create division.
We call out the prince of darkness, not by casting blame at each other and hurling accusations at them, but by recognizing his sleight of hand in the strife.
We call to mind one of the last words of Christ, as He hung on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Finally, we pray… fiercely.
We ask God for prudence, but we also ask Him for the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and for the ability to speak less and listen more.
We ask God for both the willingness to hear the spoken word of our opponent, and the grace to see beyond the spoken word to understand the unspoken, and perhaps even subconscious, motivation behind the words.
We pray, not just for the other person, but for humility to acknowledge when our own viewpoint may be both difficult to hear, and also at times, completely incorrect.
Simply put, as we continue to wade the waters of instant gratification on social media, and swim these waters of division in this world, we tread softly, but pray fiercely.– AnnAliese Harry
We listen to the words spoken but listen harder to the underlying motivations and experiences of the other person.
We speak firmly, but with patience.
We love each other.
We pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
As we continue to move forward, let each of us visit, and re-visit, the uncomfortable question at hand – are our actions, both in real life and on social media, bearing good fruit?