By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
In today’s world, technology has provided us with a means for easy and accessible communication with a global audience in addition to our everyday face-to-face interactions. The remote and often faceless nature of technology — through the internet and social media — has given many people the courage to express themselves in a way that they are not able to do in real-life face-to-face communication. This is a positive development.
Unfortunately, this ability to courageously express feelings and thoughts through Internet technology has also introduced a callous attitude to communication and expression that promotes intolerance and hate among people.
In the process of free and faceless expression, some have ignored the place of charity in human interactions. You only need to read the comment sections of posts on online platforms to see the degree of degeneration in human conversations. This spreading of hate and division through abuse of the means of communication with which this generation has blessed us can damage, or entirely prevent, the fruitful encounter between communication and our Christian calling to fraternal love and charity.
As we reflect on the invitation to communicate with love, charity and mercy, the challenge to us as people of faith is this: How do we do this? How do we communicate with love in a society that is culturally and religiously diverse? How do we communicate with mercy in a world torn apart by religious intolerance? How do we communicate with fraternal charity in a world where ethnicity and race are central points of identity? I believe that part of the answer lies in developing a communication spirituality that is guided by the principles of our faith.
Communication spirituality is an emerging concept. It attaches a spiritual meaning to communication beyond the everyday understanding of communication as a process of transmission of messages from sender to receiver. Communication spirituality embodies the idea that such transmission of messages should lead to building up humanity, not destroying it.
As we use the various tools of communication, particularly new media technologies such as the Internet and social media, I challenge us all to develop a communication spirituality that will enable us to communicate with love and fraternal charity. Communication spirituality ensures that whatever comes out from the inside of us and is expressed in a message — in the real world or online — should always flow from, and be grounded in, the spiritual experience that has been internalized as a result of our faith. Technology does not communicate; it is the person that communicates by the use of technology. Therefore, it is impossible to remove the human element from true communication. Communication spirituality reinforces the demands of our faith which encourage respect for differences and accommodation of diversity in our human relationships.
The internet facilitates and enables interaction between and among people of different cultures, races, belief systems, political inclinations and geographical locations. Communication spirituality helps us to value and appreciate our differences through the sharing of ideas and knowledge that enhance growth. Technology does not have the ability to do all these things. As an instrument, it only facilitates these behaviors; the ability to carry out these behaviors is exclusive to humans. Technology does not hurt our feelings — humans do. Technology does not judge anyone — humans do. Technology does not have a heart — humans do. Technology does not interact — humans do. According to Pope Francis, “it is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal” (Pope Francis, 50th World Communications Day, #10).
Therefore, we should never allow the facelessness we feel when using any form of technology to make us forget that we are persons with a heart and feelings, communicating with another person or persons with human features just like we have. The fact that some may seem heartless and mean in their communication with us is not an excuse to pay them back in their own coin by becoming heartless and mean as well. Rather, it is an opportunity to put our communication spirituality into play: communicate with conviction, in love and with fraternal charity. This type of communication sets us apart as people of faith and encourages peaceful collaboration and integration among people in our society.
Communication spirituality in a multicultural environment demands that our Facebook posts, our tweets, our text messages, our blog posts, our news commentaries and our face-to-face conversations have, as their end, the desire to contribute to the good of the person and the common good of society. To develop a communication spirituality in a pluralistic society is to value the benefits of technology, which are a gift to our generation, and to use these tools to promote peaceful coexistence. People should use technologies to communicate their opinions and knowledge without resorting to hurting other people by demeaning their faith, their ethnicity, their personalities, or any other natural human attribute that may apply to them.
Finally, when we develop a communication spirituality that is centered on fraternal charity, love and mercy, we begin to communicate with respect, with integrity, with a sense of justice, with a heart of compassion and with a desire to be of service to humanity.
Father Jacob Dankasa is a parochial vicar at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Plano.