Small Talk: On the Way from Distraction to Action

The post below is my Nov. 1, 2019, contribution to the Magis Center blog. Rev. Robert Spitzer, SJ, PhD, is president of the Magis Center, whose missions include the revitalization of belief in God and pursuit of the highest levels of human happiness, love, and freedom. The podcast above is my interview on the Kyle Heimann Show on Redeemer Radio, the radio stations in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, discussing Pope Francis’ suggestions for Catholic values to ease social polarization and to revitalize journalism and communication for the purpose of more inclusive and constructive secular communication.

Found at this site (See the entirety of the Magis Center and Credible Catholic websites):

Thanks to Paul Nicolaus for a recent review examining scholarly research on the kind of happiness we might experience en route to the office each morning.

Nicolaus’ online post for Oregon Public Radio, (“Want to Feel Happier Today? Try Talking to a Stranger”), reminds us that today’s culture appreciates minor chit-chat when riding elevators to higher floors—without fully embracing the call to raise society’s real happiness to higher levels.

Nicolaus acknowledged that “far too many of us,” when we share a vertical trip with another person, will fiddle with our cell phones rather than say “good morning” or even make eye contact. He cited studies favoring a different approach. They show minor social interactions with strangers we encounter can put us in a better mood and make the day more pleasant.

In other words, “we might just be short-changing our own happiness by ignoring opportunities to connect with the people around us.”

Experimenting with conversation

One research duo assigned experiment participants to enter a coffee shop and purchase a beverage. Half were told to “get in and get out,” and the other half were told to “strike up a conversation with the cashier.” The latter group “left Starbucks in a better mood… and they even felt a greater sense of belonging in their community,” according to the psychological diagnosis.

A behavioral scientist’s research with bus and train commuters concluded that those who interacted with fellow passengers had “a more pleasant ride.” They learned the initiation of a conversation tended to be more enjoyable than they had feared, Nicolaus reported.

Yet another researcher found that, when someone made simple eye contact with people, it made recipients of that “brief acknowledgement… feel more socially connected,” at least temporarily.

Nicolaus cited this conclusion from one scholar: “Happiness seems a little bit like a leaky tire on a car…. We just sort of have to keep pumping it up a bit to maintain it.” Offering a compliment or starting a conversation with a stranger “could wind up putting a smile on your face and theirs.”

What’s your reaction to the article?

What’s your reaction to the article? Here’s mine, drawing from Fr. Spitzer’s outline of the four levels of happiness:

  • This research generally sets the bar low for human conversation and openness to real encounters. Nicolaus sees much of the data celebrating small talk for its personal, immediate gains at level one—a “pleasant ride,” or “feeling more socially connected.” Those reasons are fine on a bus, but let’s not stop there.
  • Fortunately, the story does offer some important inspiration for baby steps we can take beyond level-one happiness. Recall the experiment that concluded one’s outreach to a stranger might also brighten the moment for the recipient, not the initiator alone. Consider Nicolaus’ insights about the optimal benefits—a sense of belonging, the start of a conversation. These reflect an intuition that some forms of instant-gratification behavior can open the door to short-term and long-term happiness perspectives.
  • Realizing this, perhaps I’ve looked away from my smartphone and boldly risked rejection by saying “good morning” to someone. This particular wisdom in choosing real-life communication reflects Pope Francis’ warning about the dangers of our digitized culture. “Social media” paradoxically can leave us “orphaned” if we fail to notice and share in the blessings of our diverse “fellow travelers.” Smartphones offer many immediate and short-term advantages, but using them to control, or retreat from, a random elevator encounter contributes to isolation and disempowerment, rather than long-term happiness at level three.

Mere eye contact and pro-forma small talk are seldom sufficient anywhere. All of life is a journey during which we need to build authentic connections and dialogues. Society’s current trends toward distrust and polarization dry up the opportunities of shared happiness for everyone and even level-one pleasures of outreach for individuals. To paraphrase the famous Pogo cartoon quote: “We have met the stranger, and he is us.”

Feeling happier today and beyond

The message of Nicolaus’ headline holds true: try talking to strangers if you want to feel happier today. But what happens in the days that follow? We are reaching out to a dynamic human and spiritual ecology where higher levels of happiness need constant “pumping up.”

Advice from the recently reported research appeals to us at level one happiness, but it’s time for deeper study: what contributive possibilities might we create if the stranger we approach responds, starts talking, and invites us to listen?

That will be a better ride for the longer haul, marked by kindness that’s spontaneous, not strategic. Whatever we do with our smartphones, we’ll send the message that we’re not just commuting together—we’re accompanying each other.

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Arise from Sharkness! How Leaders Win with a Silly Song

sharkCBS journalist Bob Schieffer offered a lesson we all should chew on when he saw a deeper meaning in the World Series victory of the Washington Nationals.

During his Oct. 31 “Evening News” commentary, he showed us how the team’s “Baby Shark” phenomenon had helped everyone rise above the usual political song and dance.

We saw Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor saying this about the teachable moments when America’s capital city found joy in its national pastime and the Nationals players: “For a couple of weeks, they gave us something that all of Washington, DC, could unite around. A miracle indeed.”

Schieffer suggested the team’s path to success began when it adopted the silly tune and gestures of “Baby Shark” as its brand statement. “The idea was so goofy, it made the team laugh. They started having fun, got to know each other.”

As they won game after game, their fans “went crazy,” said the smiling reporter. The new anthem echoed inside and outside the stadium. Athletes danced in the dugout. When the final triumph came, even snarky and sharky Washingtonians joined in celebrating the power of an exuberant spirit, alive with the sound of music. They had discovered an unimpeachable source of bipartisan wisdom on how to play ball. (Even when it’s hardball.)

Our good journalist searched the experience for a takeaway message that would invite engagement rather than enragement, ongoing communication rather than bitter separatism. Schieffer summed it up: “Is there a lesson there for all of us? When you relax and get to know the people you work and deal with, it’s not only fun, it’s much easier to get things done.”

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“A Journalism of Abundance”

worldcommday logo       My efforts in research and reflection on Catholic values as an aid to renewal in today’s practice of journalism are pointing me toward a few areas of focus. One of those areas has the virtue of prompting a catchy name for the thinking I invite all people of good will—Christians and those affiliated with other faiths or no particular faith—to share in.

Shall we ponder the idea of “a journalism of abundance”? This is a call for bigger-picture perspectives helpful not only to professionals in the established institutions of journalism, but to the millions of news-consumers who have become de facto journalists. These are the people actively influencing the flow of news, information and ideas by dint of their creation of online messages in our digitized culture, especially via social media posts.

A Journalism of Peace

The first force behind my suggesting this name is a phrase Pope Francis used in the commentary on journalism he presented in his message for World Communications Day in 2018. He prescribed for all of us the embrace of a “journalism of peace.” This idea incorporated a genuine respect for the dignity and impact of journalists. Recall that his message last year concluded with a prayer for journalism that riffed on the well-known Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, in which we seek to become instruments of the Lord’s peace.

It’s a challenging, contrarian prayer because we’re committing ourselves to respond in personal ways to a spectrum of problems that plague individuals and societies. In everyday encounters, we take on the goals of healing hatred by sowing love, despair by bringing hope, darkness by shedding light, and more.

Neither Pope Francis nor Saint Francis (scholars say the prayer, while Franciscan in spirit, was not written by the saint) are calling us to generate “peace” by pretending the bad news about this earthly life doesn’t exist. There’s nothing Polyannaish in this view of a journalist’s role.

Rather than asking news-consumers and news-producers to ignore or downplay unfavorable, depressing stories, the pontiff urges using these stories as launching pads for a stream of more stories and tougher questions that increase our understanding. He recommends delving deeper into the media content that too often propagates hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness in people’s lives.

How to Read the News

As I read Francis’ remarks, I think he would recommend greeting any particular story with inquiries like these:

  • Is this the whole story? Are we hearing the multiple sides of the story? Are we interpreting and simplifying it only according to our pre-existing assumptions, the dominant narratives?
  • Is it indeed a true story? Or is it largely a piece of manipulated disinformation that distorts the facts to serve a cause, an interest group or instincts toward power, greed and self-centeredness?
  • What is the context of the story? If it’s based on “breaking news,” can we learn some of its history? Can we think about the background of the protagonists and the circumstances? Can we consider how it fits into bigger stories—like enduring themes of justice, human dignity, the complexities/flaws/virtues of people and social relationships?
  • What are the implications of the story? Is it proper to respond immediately with laughter or tears or prayers or plans for constructive collaborations? Should we react with hatred for an individual as well as anger about a behavior or underlying condition? What lessons can we learn for the short-term or long-term future? Is this hardening or softening our hearts? Is this distracting us toward an obsession or knee-jerk reaction? Is it confirming a prejudice that might lead us astray? Or are we too easily steered toward indifference and forgetfulness as a news anchor completes the report and then says, “Now, here’s the weather forecast”?

There’s an abundance of factors for the consumers and generators of this news to consider. Almost every story is more complicated than its media presentation can convey, especially if we receive it in the form of a tweet or a headline or a 10-second video.

No media presentation about a person or event can hope to tell the whole story in one fell swoop, just as no “objective” story that gives us merely the “5 Ws” plus a soundbite from “both sides” can capture the whole truth. If the information is substantive, it deserves ongoing coverage over time. An objective approach must emerge from a diligent, impartial process of seeking the whole truth always.

Curiosity Brings Us Back

In some sense, it’s healthy to question the story and how it’s being reported. Even better, it’s wise to let the story raise fresh questions in our own minds that will lead to further research, consideration and caring. The best response is a basic curiosity about the world that drives us toward fuller understanding so we can grow as responsible moral agents who fit a story properly into our world view and into our to-do list for future action. Ironically, our natural instinct of curiosity is often deadened by the tsunami of information and promotional messages that hits us each day, encouraging us to engage in a mental triage. This abandons some important knowledge to die along the roadside of the information superhighway.

The news we share must be in a framework of abundance, not limitation or lazy selectivity. There’s so much to know! There are so many sides to a story and so many factors that deserve to influence our response! I remember that this sense of the world as a cornucopia of things to learn was at the core of my desire to become a journalist. This view intensified as I came to realize that every human being involved in, or influenced by, a story has unlimited dignity to which we owe respect and responsibility, even fascination.

Journalism is indeed a community activity—a widely shared process of producing, consuming, sharing and reacting to news, not as isolated individuals seeking entertainment but as members of various communities that should make the world better for the common good.

Pope Francis and the whole body of Catholic wisdom and values (along with many treasures of secular wisdom and common-sense, common-good thought) convey these callings in countless ways. But they’re too easily forgotten in our sensation-immersed, self-focused lives. We can get too busy, too prone to narrow down the fire-hose flow of information to maximize convenience rather than grow our relationships with each other and with the God who created us as a human family.

We’re especially prone to seek the convenience of ignorance or hard-heartedness when we feel trapped by constraints upon our luxury and well-being, when we’re “looking out for number one,” when we see life as a zero-sum game or when we see people through a judgmental lens of “our overriding truth.”

We need to guard against journalism becoming an instrument for reinforcing these limiting points of view. Pope Francis has wisely warned that our digitized culture makes it easy to isolate ourselves into “my bubble” of prioritized information, my artificial reality.

Use of the news in this way deprives us of the great joy of curiosity. Remember those curious cats with nine lives. There’s immense satisfaction (even entertainment in the best sense!) available from learning, listening encounters with people whose qualities, purposes and crosses are made uniquely by God. We discover differences we can make in their lives, as the Peace Prayer tells us!

Let’s also remember, a bit more somberly, that the limitations, manipulations and isolations we might impose on people, reaffirmed by improper uses of news, are causes of hatred, injury, doubt and despair. This robs us of peace as individuals and as a society.

Francis’ call for a “journalism of peace” can be seen as a “journalism of abundance.” A sense of abundance—as God accompanies all of creation through every day’s trials with His healing mercy and transcendent love—is not just a source of great stories and essential news. It puts us in touch with the story and the Good News.

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A Conference for this Online-Content World

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My friend Paul Giesting, a Ph.D. geologist and philosopher-at-heart, as well as my co-host on the “That’s So Second Millennium” (TSSM) podcast exploring science and religion, reminded me to renew my membership in the Catholic Writers Guild.

Actually, he asked me to promote the CWG’s upcoming Online Conference, coming soon to a screen near you–on Sept. 20-22. I realized I had not registered for it yet, and then I realized I had let my membership expire. It’s all taken care of now, or at least it will be if you likewise register for this excellent organization’s informative, thought-provoking conference. (It’s a reasonably priced resource for non-members as well as members.)

Paul himself is helping to organize the online gathering and will be presenting a talk/workshop/webinar on what writers need to know about geology. I think he should brand the session more creatively as “When Writers Have Rocks in their Head.”

Because I have a quarry in mine, I’ve neglected to invite readers of this blog to check out the two podcasts I’m privileged to co-host. I also write the website show notes for both, a service that multiplies the great learning experiences I have as an interviewer and commentator.

Please visit the TSSM series of more than 70 episodes at thatssosecondmillennium.com . Paul and I have enjoyed the honor of interviewing the distinguished scientists, philosophers and theologians who spoke at this year’s conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists, held at the University of Notre Dame in June.

And please visit the two “seasons” of the EncounterPoints podcast I’m privileged to produce with my friend Ken Hallenius. Find us at encounterpoints.com . We talk about aspects of evangelization that hopefully will help others and society at large, but certainly can help us as individuals who appreciate the connections between faith and everyday life.

I’ve been a writer all my life, but I love the newfound excitement of podcast and radio experiences interviewing others–and being interviewed myself in connection with this blog and my related book When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer? . You can listen to my broadcast appearances by scrolling down to the links on my OnWord page titled “Let’s Talk About Communicating Better.”

Thanks again to the Catholic Writers Guild for awarding me its respected Seal of Approval for When Headlines Hurt earlier this year. Please join me in affirming that the CWG does not have rocks in its head: Register for their online conference and discover the resources and insights they offer.

 

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“Meeting of Minds” > #TweetingofMinds

Despite the disturbing trend toward increased social polarization and weakened civic communication in society, we can still find champions for meaningful, respectful, inclusive conversation in American media–and certainly in values-informed communities around the country.

We need to celebrate these champions, to learn from the healthy and problem-solving interactions they foster. It’s also helpful to honor exemplars of fascinating discussion and debate from the past, whether those exemplars were completely rooted in the real-life issues of their day or gifted as creative entertainers who also saw how relevant–and enjoyable–a vigorous conversation between people can be.

So here’s a shout-out to one of my heroes of genuine curiosity and kind-hearted communication from the past: Steve Allen. This wise, witty genius loved robust dialogues so much that he developed a groundbreaking program for PBS called “Meeting of Minds.”

This show assembled groups of people from different periods of time so that we all could expand our intellects and imaginations by hearing them share their experiences and perspectives with each other. The actors engaged by Allen brought notable historical characters to life so we could listen and learn from their knowledge and, in a dignified setting, discern the best of what these real people had to offer from their own minds and hearts, from the strengths and weaknesses of their humanity, from the triumphant and tragic experiences of their unique points in the world’s timeline.

Enjoy this pilot episode, courtesy of YouTube, and take a look at other episodes. This is a taste of conversation from the past that can whet our appetites for richer, more rewarding communication in our present day, when it’s sorely needed.

I’ve begun tweeting about current voices addressing social polarization–comments I garner from today’s news and entertainment media. I want to help stimulate the appetites of myself and others–an effort I embrace in various ways, including my OnWord.net blog and my When Headlines Hurt book; my tweets are marked with “#WhenHeadlinesHurt.” In honor of my hero Steve Allen and his contributions to a healthy , caring curiosity about others in the past, present and future, I’m adding another hashtag to these missives: #TweetingofMinds.

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Renewing Democracy and News Takes More than “60 Minutes”

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There’s still time to indulge the patriotism one feels during the July 4 weekend—especially if you also care about news content in today’s media world and productive conversation in our polarized public square. Just take several minutes to watch Brian Stelter’s recent interview with the respected CBS journalist Scott Pelley on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”*

Pelley, a “60 Minutes” co-host and former anchor of “The CBS Evening News,” described “the thing that worries me the most about our beloved country”—our society’s entry into what he called the “disinformation age.”

A healthy democracy requires healthy journalism, Pelley cautioned. While he made it clear that news organizations like CBS must take seriously their own adherence to ethical public service, Pelley also imposed an extra responsibility on all news consumers. After all, many of us now use social media to play the dual role of consumer and generator of streams of information.

Those streams can either build or erode our culture’s respect for truth, sense of trust and ability to address life’s challenges through inclusive, respectful communication. Our exchanges of news and commentary must include critical judgments about what we’re being told, as well as a proactive pursuit of others’ perspectives.

Audiences “have to be careful about how they choose their information diet,” Pelley urged: “Triangulate your information,” taking the time to check a variety of sources to verify the credibility of a story. In this digital world, our resources for this broad research are unmatched, and our duty to use those resources with a constructive curiosity “is going to be mandatory.”

Those comments, on-target for those who seek renewal in our democracy, echoed remarks made by Pope Francis in his 2018 World Communications Day message. A growing group of thought-leaders in the secular arena (see my latest “Resources for Renewal” page, an article I’ve updated on LinkedIn) is also making similar remarks with local and global implications.

The Pope’s message, about which I offer reflections in When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer?, uses memorable phrases to outline his prescription for the future of the news media. He taps into traditional, Franciscan values, but they will resonate broadly with people focused on the common good. I revisit this prescription often in my blogs at OnWord.net and the McGrath Institute for Church Life blog:

  • Construct a “journalism for peace.” Seek out the truth for the sake of justice, without which there can be no peace. Dig deeper and ask follow-up questions about what you’re hearing. Why and how is this news story happening? What are its implications for people in the mainstream and on the margins of society? Are labels and stereotypes being used rather than an understanding that incorporates the dignity, uniqueness and complexity of people? What should be our response to this information?
  • Journalists must be “protectors of news.” Pope Francis said “the heart of information is people,” not the speed of breaking news or the power of technology. Journalists need to be in touch with people’s real lives—with a notion of subsidiarity grounded in everyday experience and community-building rather than strategically contrived talking points mass-produced by professional advocates.
  • We all should be “educators for truth.” News consumers and purveyors alike need to value truth as conformity with reality. Christians see truth personified in Jesus, but most people can agree that they know certain truths when they see them, and they know that reality ultimately wins. It wins, but it shouldn’t be weaponized.
  • Disinformation is not a victimless crime. Such manipulation is often defamatory, purposely chilling people’s willingness to share their honest thoughts in problem-solving conversations. This can lead to ambient hatred, policy paralysis and the isolation of individuals in their artificial realities.

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* The “Reliable Sources” interview segment can be viewed in the Commentary section of the Dunlop Media website. My old friend, Steve Dunlop–skilled broadcast journalist, insightful commentator and respected media-skills consultant–provides resources including podcasts and blog posts. You’ll want to peruse them regularly to monitor the intersection of social polarization, media challenges and values that address those challenges.

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Come Holy Spirit–as We Plan the Ideal Summer Vocation

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By this point, Catholics listening to Pope Francis’ ongoing messages to the world can feel comfortable that renewing social communication–in all its forms (especially in the digital realm), in the Church and in the secular sphere, among faith-based people and “nones” alike–is one of his priorities. He spoke about it again in his Pentecost homily this past Sunday, connecting to the Holy Spirit’s work of peace-building some key themes he has raised in “Christus Vivit,” his 2019 exhortation to young people, as well as in his 2018 and 2019 messags for World Communications Day.

I believe he’s saying we need to help bring Christian values back into our understanding of what constitutes fruitful journalistic communication. So many people are playing the journalist, not only consuming news but generating news through their social media, sometimes without a sense of accountability for toxic thoughts they’re soaking in and emotions they’re promulgating. Pope Francis offers pastoral advice regarding the lively cyberspace exchanges of information, our dual roles as news consumers and news generators, the spirit of purpose and pleasure we must bring to community conversations, and the respect for complex human dignity and the sense of receptivity we should bring to encounters in the public square. Defaming others without accountability, short attention spans that jump to conclusions, oversimplified labels dismissing people, and the manipulation of truth are reducing our mutual trust and our hope that democracy can exercise its ability to solve problems for the common good.

In his Pentecost homily, Pope Francis cautioned that, “in the age of the computer,” we feel more distanced and isolated from each other, and “the more we use the social media, the less social we are becoming.” We are at risk of spreading “a culture of lies.” You can see his full homily here.

He also spoke in recent weeks about the dangers (as well as the benefits) of our digitzed culture as a home where so many young people reside. In “Christus Vivit,” his exhortation drew from the Synod on Youth that took place in Rome in 2019. He sounded cautionary notes that should make parents carefully consider how to keep our kids learning and growing (as participants in civil society and Church life) during the “summer break.”

Catholics of all ages need to understand their faith and their values better in a world where popular culture no longer affirms these things. As politics join the summer weather in heating up, policy issues may accentuate bitter local debates that many previously ignored, and local expressions of free speech and exercise of religious values may confront reduced tolerance. Summer is a great time to journey in explorations of truth among different people who can be met in charity and peaceful, relaxed solidarity.

We parents are tempted to become lax about the school year disciplines encouraging young people to learn and foster community life in the context of Christian values We invite kids to have vacation fun while forgetting that the digital culture is one where they might be sidetracked into artificial realities and self-created identities. A value-started life may be captured by the entertainment offered by corporate interests, or by the extremist energies of activists who place enragement over engagement, income over instruction, sensation over common sense.

The Holy Father said this in his exhortation:

“Today’s media culture creates a deep sense of orphanood. We need to build fraternial environments” in our parishes, as well as in our communities and families, where young people can rise above isolation and experience a sense of belonging and shared purpose.” Rather than being distracted by video games, they deserve to be in places of multigenerational dialogue, memory, aspirations and action attuned to the the things that matter most in life.” (Christus Vivit, paragraph 216)

These messages align with Pope Francis’ 2018 and 2019 messages for World Communications Day (an annual pause for reflection, initiated by the Second Vatican Council and its document Inter Mirifica), In the 2019 message, he cautioned that the “community” model practiced in social media is too often one of excluding people and ideas with which you differ. The Church idea of community, he said, is based on communion–something higher that brings us together in humility with similar beliefs and motivations. The Eucharist and other sacraments make us more aware of our shared identity as a Body of Christ that is one although we comprise many parts, all of which have uniquely beautiful, God-given gifts to be shared.

The pope’s 2018 message called for a “journalism of peace” that proactively asks deeper questions in order to help us find areas of common ground, plus “education for truth” that springs from journalists valuing the truth and inspiring others to seek conformity with reality. A relativism that allows us to define our own truths on the basis of emotion and individually-defined primacy can otherwise combine with an urgent moralism–a sense of right and wrong that should be maintained–but one that unilaterally judges who is wrong–who is an evil force by dint of strongly held beliefs and therefore not someone we can learn from or engage with because they recognize a higher power.

A growing body of work by the Pope is telling us we have a kind of additional curriculum for teaching and practicing an evangelization that heals the culture and brings us together at the societal and individual level. It’s got to be based on a personal, receptive relationship with the Lord–through the Holy Spirit’s everyday influence on our lives, as stated in the new Pentecost homily. That gives us the love and forgiveness by which we can communicate with others as merciful fellow sinners, fellow seekers of truth who can find great joy and encouragement in local avenues of discovery. We’re not denying the truth, the way and the life, but we’re following Him rather than sitting on the beach in judgment of others or marching off in war against them.

Pentecost has helped to bring us to a summer break where we can some the time to be more reflective and receptive about the best ways to work together. The Paraclete will help us to speak in ways that others understand. Our faith in Christ and our communion through the sacraments and the “Amen” we say together at every liturgy will help to focus on things we can do, especially as a mix of old and young, rich and poor, robust Catholic and open-minded “none,” so long as we stay in motion–not leaving a vacuum of laziness or elitism-in-a-bubble. Into such vacuums can be injected popular culture’s tendencies toward narcissim, isolation and escape from painful realities.

Pope Franics reminded us in the 2018 World Communications Day message, about which I wrote a book of reflections and research, that we must be instruments of peace and stewards of the news, including the “Good News” and the bad news, sharing a sense of sacrifice, wonder and duty that brings us together, rather than driving us apart. Note that the pontiff’s 2018 message ends with a version of the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis in which fully engaged communicators (“love always commuicates,” the pope has said) have to put our lives where our words are.

I’m committed to encouraging fellow Catholics about the power of inclusive conversation, embracing both faith and reason, that our use of digital media can produce great fruits if we understand that it entails both rights and responsibilities, faith and reason,  minds and hearts, smiles and tears, the use of remarkable communication tools and an impulse toward flesh-and-blood community where “many parts” all enjoy freedom and authenticity in recognition of the really real.

As Francis said on Pentecost Sunday, ” the Spirit is far from being an abstract reality; he is the Person who is the most concrete and close.” He is the one who changes our lives by immersing us in the love and grace of God if we allow him to–in between the latest video games and summertime distractions. Self-satisfied temptations to lounge around, ignorant while others are defamed, excluded, and orphaned, make our summer vocations unsustainable. We must accompany all persons of infinite worth, whom the pontiff describes as “the heart of the news.” These are the stories that should be trending.

(Summer may be a good time to plan parish-based, group-based or school-based programs for discussion of alternative approaches to changing times and the risk of greater polarization. A sense of purpose and opportunities to make a difference, knowing truth and emrbacing charity, may be exactly what young people–and people of all ages–are looking for. Conversations for neighbors of all faiths, from all backgrounds, based on values-informed principles rather than conflict-oriented politics, may be just the thing to focus and energize people of good will to consider a new evangelization that addresses everybody’s growing concerns about news and social polarization, as discussed in my book, Headlines That Hurt, and my blogs at http://OnWord.net. Please consider inviting Bill Schmitt to speak to your group and to facilitate conversations built around the strong series of insights in place and in progress from Pope Francis, Saint Francis and the time-tested wisdom of the Church–contact him at bschmitt@alumni.princeton.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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