By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
You’ve talked before about the power of harsh words to harm people. Why has this become such a problem in a world where social media communication is instantaneous and often unfiltered?
I think social media is both a blessing and curse. The blessing is we have far more information before us than ever before in the history of the human race. With social media, we can do many creative things. We can evangelize and witness our faith through technology. We can keep up with breaking stories in real time. What would we do without the internet today? For these and many other reasons, social media is a blessing. The curse is how some people use it. Texting, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms are sometimes used not to share news but to criticize or even bully others. We live in an age where it is more common to talk about people than to talk to people. This does not follow the values of Jesus. People may assume facts about a situation that are not true and react to that. I always say, there are four sides to every story, and I only know one of them.
Is this a lot different from the time when you were growing up?
I remember when I was a kid, I learned the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” May I suggest that that is a completely false statement. Names do hurt us. The way in which people criticize us can be very hurtful. Harsh words on social media can tear someone down instead of building them up.
How do you see this manifesting itself today?
It’s not uncommon in our parishes and schools that when a person or a group of people are angry at someone or something, they go to social media to air their dissatisfaction or their grievances. Most often this creates a social media argument that divides schools and parishes and can easily hurt the feelings of the person and affect their reputation. This is not of God. I remember receiving an email that was incredibly harsh and degrading. I replied to the person that it may have been helpful for him to reread what he had written. The response I got was: “I just put my feelings in the email and pressed the button, and the button I pressed was like a cannon headed toward you.” Is this what Jesus expects of us as Christians? Is this going to build up our schools and parishes communities? Don’t get me wrong. Even though I’m older, I value technology and have learned to use it fairly well. It is a blessing, but the curse is the evil spirit is, sometimes, revealed through social media. Whenever someone is torn down or misjudged or experiences name-calling, that is the work of the devil, not of God.
How do you suggest people can lower the temperature of a heated, social-media argument?
I often bring to mind Psalm 141: “Set a guard, Lord, before my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips.” Perhaps in the spirit of technology, we can add to that plea: “Lord, put a guard on the send button of my computer.” Let’s pray that we use our computers for good and not for evil.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.