The National Catholic Register had this to say about today’s human response to the barrage of news, social media, and especially facebook. Hashtag activism taking the place of real action. I have some different thoughts, though our sentiments are similar.
There is a psychological concept called “compassion fatigue”. While much psychology is ideology with a medical wrapper, this is a real phenomenon. It is a product of human biology, and not necessarily the unpalatable fruit of human indifference.
My concern starts focus not with the message, but the media. I think computers and instant information has the potential to be a great good. But like anything else, it is a tool. It can lead to poison if used improperly.
And that can be summed up in the classic phrase, water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. There is so much information. So much! Not all of it is even true, but all of it is shaped and channeled to grab your attention, to make you care, and to imply you are a horrible person if you ignore it. If you open yourself to all of it, you drown in sorrows, and fall into despair.
After a while it becomes a wall of noise, just so you can stay sane. I believe human persons developed this so that living in cities is bearable, or surviving terrible calamity is possible. But that doesn’t mean this sort of thing is outside your control. While the result is an uncaring facade– it must be admitted to be a tool. A tool is a thing that is both useful for good or ill, and a thing which you have conscious use.
Certainly if you create a safe tunnel exclusively for yourself, it is not a laudable thing. The fact remains, some acceptable solution must be brought forth to both have soft hearts and a discerning palette, yet prevent total meltdown. This is a problem that has been going around for a long time. Longer than I’ve been around, even. Where do you think the Good Samaritan story comes from?
Where can we look to find an acceptable guide? Go too far back, and some would say, “it wouldn’t work in our time.” But a guide who has holiness, who spoke the truth, is in order.
So I look to Bishop Sheen. He may be ‘a mere Venerable’ (and slated to say that way until the two diocese who share him can behave like grownups). He, as a public figure, had to swim these waters before it was common. What did he do?
1. He did not watch the news.
2. He spent an hour a day in front of the Blessed Eucharist.
I look at this and think, Oh, I wish I could spend an hour a day in front of the Blessed Lord. It is not quite jealousy, for I would never take such a blessing away from anyone. I am even lucky enough to live within commute distance of a place where Adoration is available 24/7, save during masses and high holy days. Getting there isn’t easy for me, but I make excuses.
Second, I cannot afford to be completely ignorant of day to day events. Though, it is clear that Bishop Sheen did not, either. The point is, custody of the eyes, discernment and plenty of quiet and time for reflection, and to put First Things, first.