In the world of Catholic-to-Catholic blogospheric communication–in-house discussions of various interpretations of a host of things Catholic—it seems that we too often, merely, want to win the argument. We quickly lose sight of the charitable pursuit of truth and thus lose the opportunity for healing any wounds of disunity and loss of “communio” among our fellow Catholics.
Why do this to ourselves and to the Body of Christ?
This Lenten season, in which we are called to purification and enlightenment, imagine the great good that could come from trying to replace divisions existing among our fellow Catholics with solutions to those divisions, regardless of whether we ultimately end up seeing eye to eye on every nuance associated with our Catholic faith.
What if we actually invited others to speak to us on such subjects, so that we may listen first to what they have to say? That is, what if our first goal was to establish (or restore) communion with the other person before even beginning to discuss the substance of various arguments?
What if we stopped “othering” our Catholic brothers and sisters when we don’t fully understand or agree with them?
And what if, as a deliberate Lenten practice, everyone involved in Catholic blogging decided to communicate with each other “covenantally”—by never losing sight of our common bond in Christ and praying for each other before, during, and after we discuss issues over which we may disagree? Doesn’t the Gospel really demand a “communication covenant” with our brothers and sisters in Christ? It seems kind of sad that we too-often break covenant and communion when discussing—and disagreeing—about how to properly understand our faith.
Here are some practical tips which I’ve picked up the hard way in several years of discussion in the Catholic blogosphere. These tips may help you create your own “communication covenant” not only for this Lent, but for always.
Tip #1: You Can’t Say Everything at Once.
A common mistake I’ve encountered is our reacting not to what someone actually says, but instead criticizing someone for what we think they really should have said. I need to focus instead on what’s really being said.
Tip #2: Our Intellects Are Darkened by Sin.
This is colloquially referred to as the “sin makes you stupid” explanation of the wound of concupiscence as a consequence of original sin—concupiscence not only disorders my appetites but also darkens my intellect. It took me forever, sadly, to realize that relentlessly repeating what I know to be true just doesn’t help persuade someone under the influence of a darkened intellect. And I have to remember my intellect suffers from this condition, too.
Tip #3: Avoid “Don’t Let Your Facts Get in the Way of My Narrative.”
Our accepted truths don’t exist in a vacuum—they are all part of a story. What happened to us that brought us to this belief? That’s the story or “narrative.” And often times the “narrative” is too deeply ingrained in us to allow new and more accurate information to reshape the things we’ve committed to in the past. I need to be more willing to let fresh evidence shape—and reshape—my story!
Tip #4: Don’t “Tell” Me—SHOW Me.
In the fast-paced blog-and-combox world, we often resort to repeating—often inaccurately—what a bunch of other people might have said that somebody else said, rather than repeating what that somebody actually and directly said. I need to stop taking “hearsay” as gospel and instead require that I be shown the original statement in context. I simply can’t rely on other people’s “telling” what was meant—I need to see the source.
Tip #5: Don’t Tell Others What They Think: ASK Them.
One great temptation that helps us “win” arguments at the expense of truth is telling our dialogue partner what they think instead of simply asking them to state or even re-state their view so we have yet another opportunity to really “get” their point. I need to stop relying on my paraphrase and instead willingly examine in real time what someone says they think. I need to ask them if what I think they said is really what they meant.
Tip #6: Do NOT Play the “WWJD?” (“Who Would Jesus Dis?”) Card.
Among the weakest appeals to authority is the appeal to the example of Christ employed as an excuse for our own display of anger, harsh criticism, or name-calling toward a brother or sister in Christ. Do I really think that the behavior of Jesus—who did not have to deal with disordered passions like anger, envy, lust, etc.—gives me permission to belittle someone else or show disrespect or anger toward another? Certainly not in the Catholic blogosphere!
Tip #7: Don’t “Other” Others—Pray for Them (But Not Out Loud).
Catholic bloggers and comboxers know full well when this line gets crossed—or should. Every time somone takes the ad hominem approach of accusing “him” or “her” or “them” in contrast to the “me” or the “us” holding the clearly (supposedly) correct view, we do a disservice to the “othered” fellow Catholic and to the very heart of the Gospel. I don’t need to point fingers at “him” in order to demonstrate the truth of a point “I” wish to make! Instead, I must make a point to pray for “him”—not by saying “I’m praying for you” out loud, which can smack of self-righteousness, but by simply doing it in the quiet of my heart.
Tip #8: Imagine Reconciling with Your Most Annoying Opponent—Then Do It!
Human as we are, some bloggers and comboxers eventually annoy us. Rather than letting that feeling control me, I need to control it via a willingness to love the one who annoys me most. I should reach out and reconcile—even if we always disagree. Let my brother in Christ know he is my brother and is loved, even when he’s not liked so much!
Tip #9: Embrace the Fruits of the Holy Spirit.
How can I more fervently pray for and apply all of the fruits of the Holy Spirit to my communication? Charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity all have their place in my “communication covenant.” I should pick a couple at a time to work on—maybe I need gentleness more now than ever, or self-control so as to really radiate charity and joy when in the blogosphere!
Tip #10: Don’t Ever Stop Listening.
Simply put: Both communication and communion can only happen when and if two people actually hear each other accurately. The axiom of “two ears, one mouth” makes sense! I need to be willing to listen twice more than I speak, and I should never stop being willing to hear what my brother or sister in Christ has to say.