Editor’s Note: During July and August, Rhode Island Catholic is sharing some of Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s favorite Without a Doubt columns. The following column originally ran on October 19, 2017.
Is it just my imagination, or is our world more divided and fractured than ever?
It’s certainly true on a national level. Our country is fractured along political, racial and economic fault lines that are more pronounced than they’ve been in a long time. The angry exchanges between the various camps show up in the news just about every day.
And our President certainly isn’t helping. Love him or hate him, you have to admit that President Trump is a lightning rod, a divisive, controversial figure who sparks heated reactions just about every time he speaks, tweets, or signs an executive order. He fights with everyone — enemies of our nation, our overseas allies, Democrats, Republicans, athletes, actors, musicians, talk-show hosts, even members of his own staff. And, of course, the media. How he loves to trash the media and their “fake news.”
Closer to home, it seems that our local community is perpetually angry and divided too. Every morning we wake up to news about petitions, pickets and protests. The debates involve a variety of issues — power plants, pensions, teacher contracts, immigration, Christopher Columbus — you name it. But isn’t it a shame that as a society we can’t discuss the issues rationally and solve our problems without having to trash, embarrass and verbally assassinate our opponents?
The Church is divided too. Do you consider Pope Francis a hero or a heretic? Do you think Holy Communion should be given to divorced and remarried Catholics or not? Do you like or ridicule the Latin Mass? Are you a pro-lifer or a social activist? These are just some of the wide crevices that divide the Body of Christ these days, rendering the unity of the Church more of an ideal to be achieved than a lived experience.
Oh well, in the midst of our angry societal divisions, we can always turn to sports for recreation and relaxation, can’t we? Oops... not these days.
It used to be the only debates in the sports world were about your favorite team: The Red Sox or the Yankees? The Bruins or the Habs? The Patriots or the Steelers? But those days of simple fun-filled rivalries are long gone.
Now, you approach a football stadium wondering not which team will win, but whether the players will stand or kneel for the National Anthem. If your team wins the championship, will all the players go the White House for the traditional celebration or will some of them stay home in protest? Are the ESPN commentators talking today about politics or playoffs?
Living in our society today can be really discouraging and even depressing. And without a doubt, our divisions have been exponentially magnified by the intimidating presence of the internet and social media. On any of the stories mentioned above, check out the “comment section” to see how ill-informed, angry and vulgar some folks can be, usually behind the shield of anonymity.
I worry too about what kind of community we the “adults in the room” are creating for our children and grandchildren. What kind of behaviors are they learning from us; What kind of example are we giving? Is it any wonder that so many of our kids today turn so quickly to disrespect, vulgarity and violence?
How can we resist the toxic culture of our time and, perhaps, even contribute to a better, kinder, more gentle community? A few suggestions.
The first is for all of us to step back, take a deep breath and relax. People are so tense and angry these days. We experience it on a societal level and on a personal level too. Have you had any run-ins with cranky store clerks recently? Or been involved in a “road-rage” incident? Yep, me too! We need to remember that very few problems are as important as they seem at the moment. And in the nitty-gritty of daily life, how quickly we forget all the blessings we have.
The second is to practice the virtue of humility. Some of us need to return to the science classroom to re-learn that we’re not the center of the solar system. The planets don’t revolve around us. We’re not the only player on the field. We’re not the only actor on the stage. We don’t always have to be first. We don’t always have to win.
Third, as we lament the terrible tenor of our culture we should take a long, hard look in the mirror. Do your thoughts, words and deeds contribute to the anger and division of our times? What kind of language do you bring into your conversations with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers? Are you an insufferable bully or a gentle peacemaker? Do you judge others harshly and pounce on them the minute they make a mistake? Do you contribute to the “terrorism of gossip” that Pope Francis has lamented?
And finally, we need to remember that despite the different perspectives we have, in the end we’re all children of God. We share a common Father and we are members of one family. Our time on earth is limited, and it passes so very quickly. Someday soon you’ll be dust in the ground or ashes in an urn. Do you want to spend all your days fighting and hurting, or helping and healing?
I think I hear a song rising in the background. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” And thee.