It is a big job, really, meeting the demands of our age. We must be perfectly savvy, always seeing things just a bit more incisively than the rest of the naive folk bumbling around us. At the same time, we must be perfectly morally innocent, constantly dodging any charge that could possibly be hurled our way. Who can keep up?
One of the more effective strategies (ones I myself have sometimes employed) is simply to “pass along”—generally on social media—”news stories” of which we are derisively critical. A single sentence of outrage may be included, but this works best when they require no commentary at all, and our silent outrage is all the testimony we need that we are one step ahead.
As I said, who can keep up? We’ve got to figure out something. But I am somewhat disappointed to report something I’ve noticed this Lent. This way of passing along information often functions primarily as a sophisticated form of a terrible sin, a sin roundly and consistently condemned in the Christian Scriptures and Tradition: gossip. The motivations for gossip, unfortunately, have always been the same. I indicate that I am deliciously “in the know.” And my pointing finger is a way to get leverage—and distance.
But what are we to do? What about raising awareness? What about righteously unmasking real injustices?
In the spirit of Lenten repentance, let me offer four principles that may prove helpful.
First, let’s cultivate awareness of our own motivations as we “pass along” information.
Second, if we speak, let’s focus on situations and issues that we feel we know well, especially situations about which we can offer context and insight. For Christians, of course, the ultimate context of any comment of any kind would be love.
For the third and fourth (surely the most important!), I turn to someone who has offered a steady, loving call to abandon gossip: Pope Francis.
If you must speak, he urges, say it to those “who can remedy the situation,” but “not to the entire neighborhood.” At this point in the information age, does your entire friend list just “need to know” about another outrage? If you feel strongly that you need to inform us, at least let us know what we realistically can do.
And finally, citing another age-old principle, “do not judge anyone” because “the only Judge is the Lord.”