I recently responded to a posting on another blog. The experience, on a human level, was not pleasant in the least; on a spiritual level, it was good because it brought me to prayer. “Give me, O Lord, your strength!” Always a good thing.
It also reminded me of the internet resolutions I made earlier this month. Read them here. Other bloggers have offered excellent tools for reflection, such as my friend and brother deacon, Greg Kandra, who offers a great Examination of Conscience, here, and, through Greg, I’ve found another resource by Cara Joyner, here.
In addition to my own earlier list, and drawn from this most recent experience, I want to build on Cara’s five points:
Before posting, she asks:
- Am I seeking approval?
- Am I boasting?
- Am I discontent?
- Is this a moment to protect?
- Is it kind?
6. Am I competent to address the issue? Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but not all opinions carry the same weight or value. I might have an opinion about the latest influenza strain. How nice for me! But a medical doctor who posts her professional opinion on the same subject gets the nod! I’m not saying folks have to have a degree in order to comment or to have an opinion. But what I see so often is that if a person has an opinion, they presume that it must be the final word and that their opinion is the only one that is true or that matters! I have frequently taught logic and critical thinking courses. As we find out in class, when two people disagree on something, we may conclude any number of things: a) one is correct and the other is wrong; or, b) both are correct but in different ways; or, c) both are wrong. All a disagreement tells us is that there is a disagreement; the veracity of one position over another is something else again. That is where “competence” comes into play, along with an ability to think critically and honestly. So, when sharing my opinion, I must be brutally honest with myself: What is my level of competence or incompetence in writing on an issue? The anonymity of the internet often communicates a false confidence and competence: a person can claim many things which can not always be verified in fact: that a person is a priest or deacon, for example, or that he or she holds this or that academic degree, or that they were just talking about this very issue with the Pope last week! That’s why it can be very helpful, when offering opinions, to provide verifiable information which supports one’s position. There are any number of blogs for example in which the blogger claims certain ecclesiastical status (priesthood, for example) but then proceeds to act in ways which would cast serious doubt on the veracity of such a claim.
7. Do I know when to exit the field grace-fully? When discussing contentious subjects online (or anywhere else, for that matter), do I know when to shut up? Not only that, can I do that with the grace and gentility of spirit and discourse that should mark a disciple of Christ? Or, as Cara asks, “Is it kind?” Again, the anonymity of the internet not only grants an inflated sense of self, it adds a perceived level of protection which permits a person to say anything they like; things they would never dare say in person. Sometimes it’s just better to walk away, as Christ did, with sadness of heart, than to remain and escalate into un-Christian behavior.
It simply seems that many people have simply forgotten — or have never known — how to discuss, analyze and even argue with respect, civility, docility and humility. One may argue passionately without rudeness; emotionally, without nastiness; critically, without condescension.