Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Looking Into the Maelstrom

The process of communication nowadays is largely fuelled by questions in search of answers. Search engines and social networks have become the starting point of communication for many people who are seeking advice, ideas, information and answers. In our time, the internet is becoming ever more a forum for questions and answers – indeed, people today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware. If we are to recognize and focus upon the truly important questions, then silence is a precious commodity that enables us to exercise proper discernment in the face of the surcharge of stimuli and data that we receive.

Amid the complexity and diversity of the world of communications, however, many people find themselves confronted with the ultimate questions of human existence: Who am I? What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope? It is important to affirm those who ask these questions, and to open up the possibility of a profound dialogue, by means of words and interchange, but also through the call to silent reflection, something that is often more eloquent than a hasty answer and permits seekers to reach into the depths of their being and open themselves to the path towards knowledge that God has inscribed in human hearts.

Ultimately, this constant flow of questions demonstrates the restlessness of human beings, ceaselessly searching for truths, of greater or lesser import, that can offer meaning and hope to their lives. Men and women cannot rest content with a superficial and unquestioning exchange of sceptical opinions and experiences of life – all of us are in search of truth and we share this profound yearning today more than ever: “When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals” (Message for the 2011 World Day of Communications).

Message for World Communications Day, May 20, 2012

Reflection – You know, it takes a great man to see into the maelstrom of the Internet and its ceaseless chatter and recognize the fundamental human restlessness, seeking for truth, looking for meaning, hunting for answers.

Underneath the opinionating, the endless debates,  and the wrangling lies the quest for what is real, what is valuable, what is good and will make our lives good. It can be hard to see this basic and deep human drive in the midst of the tremendous noise, the sound and fury of our information culture, not to mention its sillier and more superficial aspects.

This is where silence enters in. The work of sorting through the surfeit and excess of words and data, the work of determining what is the truly essential matter and what is distraction, the work of getting to the bottom of a question to reveal its deepest implications and extensions—all of this is work that requires silence, contemplation, a rest from the constant in-flow of fresh stimuli.

And this is precisely what is lacking in the current information technology culture. The tendency of so many, especially the young, to get on-line and stay on-line, to live constantly surfing the digital wave, to be surrounded with noise stimulus from morning to night, precisely robs us of the ability to make any sense of any of it, to understand anything.

When we lack this necessary silence, this stepping aside from the onslaught of words and ideas to process and ponder, I think that’s when the terrible polarization, tribalization into ‘camps’, knee-jerk reactions, and re-hashing of slogans and shibboleths takes over, as opposed to real conversation.

Real communication requires silence. It requires deep listening to the other, to what they are saying and what they are really saying, but it also requires a thoughtful and careful inner work by the speaker, so that what he or she says comes out of real engagement and effort towards the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Our neighbors to the South (who make up most of my readers – hi, Americans!) are engaged in an election year. In Canada, political wrangling and posturing is a permanent reality. I have no idea how political discourse flows in the rest of the world.

We need silence, Lord. ‘Shut us up,’ so that we can delve under the surface of our words and come to understanding and even wisdom, so that our words serve not just our egos and desires, but the task and mission of loving the truth and of loving one another in the truth, so that we can shape our world according to your truth. Amen.