If unholy words are used secretly and with deliberate intention, they are infinitely more poisonous; for just as in proportion to its sharpness and point a dart enters easily into the body, so the more pointed a bad word, the further it penetrates the heart. Those who fancy that it is clever to introduce such things in society, do not know its aim, which should be like that of a hive of bees, gathered together to make honey, that is for pleasant and virtuous intercourse; and not like a nest of wasps which will feed upon anything however unclean. If any foolish person speaks to you in unbecoming language, show that your ears are offended, either by turning away from him, or by whatever means may be most discreet at the time.
A spirit of mockery is one of the worst imperfections of the mind, and displeases God greatly, so that He has often punished it most severely. Nothing is more hurtful to charity, and still more to devotion, than contempt and derision of our neighbor, and such is inevitably found in mockery. For this reason it has been said that mockery is the greatest insult a man can offer his neighbor, inasmuch as in other offenses he does not altogether cease to respect the person whom he offends, but in this he despises and contemns him.
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), An Introduction to the Devout Life (Chapter 27)
There was a time in my life, mostly during college, when I wielded my tongue like a sword, sarcastically ripping to shreds anyone who entered my crosshairs of the moment. Persons who wronged me, wronged friends of mine, or those who were just plain wrong (in my opinion) were all sliced and diced. Disguising this “talent” with dry humor and a quick flash, I left many a bloody body in my wake. Or at least I fancied that I did. Truthfully my targets rarely knew they’d been cut. My comments were made mostly to a group of friends who enjoyed engaging in such exercises as this with me. They were underclassmen and I’m ashamed to say I learned later that they really looked up to me as an example and even carried on this behavior after I graduated. I was to learn of this a year or two later while seated around a bonfire at a college party when I went back to visit them.
It was embarrassing and quite frankly horrified me to learn this. When the mirror was held up to my face I saw just how angry, bitter and wrong I was to speak like that about people, but also that I’d set an example that influenced guys that I really cared about, perpetuating the behavior. The odd thing was that during my senior year I had been the opposite of angry or bitter. It was in fact when of the happiest years of my life.
Looking back on that experience causes me to shudder when I think of how I would have acted were social media around in those days. I do not envy at all my children or their peers who are navigating through this minefield now. But as adults we now use the tools of social media and what I see is not encouraging to say the least. Those who are supposed to be the more mature among us are setting a terrible example for the next generation by acting like, well…children. It finally got so bad that almost three weeks ago I deactivated my Facebook account. The final straw for me came when a man whom I’ve known for thirty years reacted strongly and in a defensive posture when I posted a rare (for me) meme involving a politician (if you consider Donald Trump a politician). It was merely the latest of such “conversations” I’ve watched unfold between old and dear friends, and it was disheartening.
When I first joined Facebook in 2009 it was to monitor my oldest son who had opened an account. As I made new friends and found old ones, it was a really cool place to catch up, discuss events in our lives, and tell stories. There seemed to be some thought put into comments that were typed, and the replies contained even more thought. But then the worst thing that could happen, happened. The Facebook smartphone app was invented. Facebook became a home for photos of food (I love you dearly but I do not need to see the awesome grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup you had for lunch), videos of funny (or unfunny) cats. Viral video was born, and memes. Facebook became more of a visual cafeteria than one of discussion because it was easier. Have you ever tried to type out a coherent well-thought out sentence on a smartphone screen with one finger? It took too much time in a world that wanted speed over substance. Speed caused a reduction in courtesy, and quick reactionary (and often inflammatory) commentary rules the day. Reading some comments one can imagine hearing the slamming of fingers onto the poor phone’s screen as the words were pecked out.
I watched this play out in real time on Twitter this morning. One of the first things I watched was an autoplay video someone retweeted from BuzzFeed of the live on-air execution of a television reporter and her cameraman as they interviewed a representative from that Virginia city’s chamber of commerce. With the horror fresh on the screen and their screams still echoing in our ears the feed was cut back to the studio and the stunned face of the woman behind the anchor desk. Amidst the cries from Twitter in the comments asking/telling/demanding/begging BuzzFeed to remove this video out of respect for the families of the dead (the cameraman’s fiancé was in the control room back at the station watching the entire event live), almost immediately ugly politics entered the fray. Comments screamed out that the shooter was obviously a Muslim/Black/White/Democrat/Republican/NRA-supporting/illegal immigrant/Tea Partying nutjob, amirite???
(I’ve provided no links nor further commentary as this story continues to develop as I write. I understand the shooter just shot himself a few minutes ago. You’ll have to seek out information on your own.)
I decided to avoid Twitter for the rest of the day.
The political realm is the worst, followed by “the cause”. But this would involve a whole other post that I don’t wish to write about now. Mostly what got to me was the sheer hypocrisy of most. Posts or photos of Zen sayings quoting Buddha or some other eastern mystic extolling the virtues of maintaining peace by being kind to others were followed by photos or news stories mocking a politician/celebrity/reality show star. I had one friend who did this regularly. She would quote Rumi one minute and in the next shred Sarah Palin with a “smirk”. I’m not a Palin fan necessarily, but after awhile the hypocrisy of it all got really old.
Our attentions spans have grown so short that we contradict ourselves within minutes.
We say things to each other (or passively-aggressively past each other) in our status updates or Tweets that we would never say directly to the face of our targets. What I’m seeing is a very public repeating of the crap I pulled as a 21-22 year old by people whom I respect and who, quite honestly, should know better. Should we really be surprised when our children do the same, or speak that way to us? Before I closed my Twitter today I saw a tweet from a priest I follow in which he pointed to evidence that our children are, in fact, watching how we conduct ourselves as adults. Not just in the homes, I would add, but online as well.
I will be reactivating my Facebook soon, though not after today’s events in Virginia. I’ll wait awhile. I realized yesterday that it is the only place I can access some poetry and song lyrics sent to me by a good friend who is pretty good at those things. I will not access it with my phone’s app and my time there will be greatly diminished during the day. I’ve kept Facebook all these years because it is a great way to stay in touch with family and close friends from around the country. But I will also be removing those who “poison” my well, so to speak, by conducting themselves more as wasps and less like bees as alluded to by St. Francis.
The more cynical or those considering themselves the paragons of irony will no doubt sneer at this statement. They are the wasps. I truly do not care. Someone has to draw the line somewhere and Saint Francis de Sales carries more weight with me.
Besides, he was right.