THANK THE GOOD LORD that Facebook did not exist in my youth. I would have mishandled social media quite badly. I can only imagine the disaster a twenty-something me would have been with digital technology. I grew up with a phone that required my finger to rotate it. (I know. The horror.) I had a typewriter in college with plenty of Wite-Out™ on hand in case I made a mistake. The Lord blessed my youthful (and—ahem—not so youthful) indiscretions with inferior technology.
I also learned a valuable lesson some years ago. Deeply frustrated with a difficult professional situation, I sent an email to several colleagues venting this frustration. Understandable? Perhaps. No one is perfect and we all lose our cool from time to time. But a very wise, compassionate (and musically sympathetic) Jesuit priest kindly exhorted me to avoid writing such missives in a digital medium for the reasons I will discuss.
I quickly heeded his advice. So should you. Here’s why:
Theologican Goffredo Boselli states, “There is, then, an indissoluble link between the liturgy and the transmission of faith. We can say, in fact, that the celebration of the liturgy is the most important act of evangelization.”(pg. 209, The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy)
With so many challenging conditions and horrific events happening in the world, we must remember this. How we speak to each other about liturgy, and what we project to the public is more important than one may realize. Also consider this statement from the Synod of Bishops on New Evangelization (2012):
“The worthy celebration of the Sacred Liturgy is the primary and most powerful expression of the new evangelization. The liturgy is not just a human action but an encounter with God which leads to contemplation and deepening friendship with God. In this sense, the liturgy of the Church is the best school of the faith.”
Social media is a very powerful tool for good. How are we using it? If one is serious about a profession or a calling to serve to God, the following are some very important reminders to consider before publishing anything:
HUMAN NATURE AND THE ILLUSION OF PRIVACY
Intellectually, most of us are aware that most anything digital can be shared with anyone. Even if you limit privacy settings, screenshots or PDFs of most anything can exist even if a post or website is taken down. Even text messages aren’t completely private. (Ask Tom Brady.)
Some aren’t worried that their incredibly witty comments won’t go past their circle of “friends.” If technology doesn’t prohibit wide distribution of poorly conceived and uncharitable comments, human nature will.
As old as the hills is the power of gossip and the spreading of rumors. Facebook was unnecessary for neighbors to know your every move one hundred years ago, so why should that be different today? Even oceans can’t stop gossip, especially in tight-knit communities.
(I think of my grandfather who came to New York City from Italy in the 1920s. He intended to marry my grandmother who was still in Tuscany. Friends in New York tried to introduce him to other women. While my grandfather was not interested, he would tell his friends, “Gilda will find out!” No one argued, because they knew it was true.)
Rumors spread faster and more effectively than a Twitter account with a thousand followers. Human nature always was and always will be the strongest factor.
DON’T PUBLICLY DISPARAGE YOUR BOSS, A COLLEAGUE, A BRIDE, A COMPOSER, AN ENTIRE GENRE, ETC.
Submitting to the axiom that anything one publishes can potentially make all the rounds, this should be obvious. Not simply because your boss or someone with power might read it. It goes to one’s professional and personal reputation.
I once witnessed a highly connected (and respected) individual look aghast from reading a post. It was from a prominent musician complaining about one’s superior.
Don’t do that.
Many others saw it, talked about it, and spread the message with a thing called “word of mouth.” Social media was rendered irrelevant. Human nature amplified and “gave legs” to the story far more effectively.
Conversely, I read two memorable threads (from two very different liturgical worlds) involving prominent figures. In both cases, one attacked the other. In both cases, the one being attacked remained charitable and civil throughout. (DO THIS. Better yet, don’t even respond.) In each case, the public debate reflected quite well on one and rather poorly on the other. (No, I will not disclose identities even privately.)
Finally, disparagement of a composer or entire genre is exceedingly unhelpful. It does more to damage the cause than to further it. It exhibits provincial and parochial behavior. Civil commentary backed up up with intelligent analysis is different. Incivility is unchristian.
DON’T PUBLICLY POST A PRIVATE COMMUNICATION.
While many of your friends may agree and you may enjoy wonderful banter, be sure that many others who are not interacting with the post are reading it and not thinking well of what they see.
”ABC” • “SUNSHINE & LIGHT”
I advise young people, especially, to be nothing but “sunshine and light” on social media. Here are some do’s and don’ts:
• Be encouraging. Be a mentor if given the opportunity. You might change someone’s life.
• Avoid the herd mentality: Think independently and comment selectively.
• Make sure any debate or criticism is intelligently stated and fair.
• Be ready to back up your statements—not only on social media, but to actual real people if personally confronted.
• Never “like” or comment anything disparaging or unfairly negative—no matter how tempting. Seriously. Don’t.
• ABC 2X: Always be civil. Always be charitable.
Do the above, and the conversation on liturgy, prayer, and God may open a door to evangelization even if only a little.
M I SUCKING ALL THE FUN out of social media? Most definitely! But if you are serious about your profession and serious about serving God, be prepared to keep the discussion on liturgy, our greatest form of evangelization, informed and enlightened.
To varying degrees, we are all public figures, even if only in our own parishes—the most important place! Are we furthering the edification of the faithful in our words?
Fair debate is a wonderful thing. But be mindful to remain in service of God. I need to remind myself of this every day! Do I ever.