Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Is there a patron saint of keeping our mouths shut?

Yesterday, I was having a really long day. I had a long meeting, I had a long reference shift, and in the midst of all that I had to prepare a lesson plan for a gigantic class today that I'm nervous about teaching every semester. And so during my last hour and a half at work, I got back from the reference desk and sat down to both pump and work on my lesson at the same time. In an effort to relax myself, I checked my Facebook news feed first, and something happened that I knew would happen eventually, but hadn't actually taken place until the cursed day that was yesterday: I was very upset by something that I read on there.

My list of Facebook friends isn't teeny tiny, nor is it huge. I'm friends with some people on there that I rarely if ever see in everyday life. But in each instance, I do care about what is going on in their life, hence the reason for the friending. And in any group of 130 people, naturally all of these people are going to have a mix of different opinions, viewpoints and lifestyles. And that's fine. I'm married to an atheist, for heaven's sake. I don't need everyone to agree with me. I have lots of friends, both on Facebook and in real life, that I treasure deeply despite any differences in our worldviews. In real life, this is because we all respect each other and can discuss things (when they come up) in a civilized and charitable fashion.

On Facebook, you have a totally different phenomena going on. I do think people feel less restrained in what they say in such a format, plus you also see comments from strangers, people you're not friends with, but they commented on one of your friends posts. And this is what happened in my situation yesterday.

One of my Facebook friends posted a link to an article about the story that is all the rage in the Catholic news right now: Catholic bishops objecting to mandated contraception coverage in all insurance plans. And the thing is, that topic isn't even relevant to the post I'm writing now, because the fact that people disagree with the Church on this is not remotely the reason that I got upset. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I'm friends with lots of people that aren't Catholic. No problem. What upset me is that I'm reading my Facebook news feed, and I have to see comments that are mean spirited, ugly, and absolutely vitriolic. I actually started shaking reading some of them.

I got mad.

People, this isn't easy to accomplish. I am EASY GOING. Can someone make me mildly annoyed? Yes, very easily. I do work with college students after all. But mad? That's hard to do. And I wasn't just mad. I was seething.

The comments that got me riled up were not crafted by my Facebook friend posting a link to the article. They were in the comments that followed, from her friends and friends of friends. And I KNOW that anything Catholic is not a very popular religious choice, especially if it becomes known that one actually believes in all of the teachings of the Church. So, some snarky comments about how outdated the Church is and virtual eye rolling do not bother me in the least.

But what DOES make me mad, my friends, is the absolute intolerant and NASTY stuff that I read yesterday. I mean, HORRIBLE. Terrible inflammatory statements about the Church and anybody SIMPLE MINDED enough to actually align themselves with such an archaic institution.

99% of the time, I can let things go. But this stuff? I couldn't let it go. I just couldn't. I'm not going to even dignify what was said by paraphrasing it here, but I'd hope that you'd trust my judgment enough to know that the fact that I was so upset by it means that it was BAD.

I'm using caps a lot, see how worked up I am?

So I posted something. This is way out of my comfort zone, because I would never ordinarily do it, but I couldn't help it. I simply commented that I found the comments posted therein to be both unkind and unfair. I immediately got a comment back directed to me that had a major Attitude.

Well. I'm weak, but I couldn't let it go. I just COULDN'T. Pride goeth before a fall, sigh.

I certainly was not going to get into a debate on Facebook. Because, primarily, it's an easy format in which to lose your cool and launch into a very uncharitable tone with people. And that's wrong, even if you feel provoked. Secondly, let's face it, it's not going to do any good. Is she going to change her mind because I try to argue with her on Facebook? No way.

So I did comment back, but only to say that there are others out there, myself included, with a different viewpoint, and I respectfully agreed to disagree. I just wanted everyone who was spewing venom out on that thread to realize that, yes, there ARE still people out there who identify as Catholics, are proud of it, and feel that, despite the human imperfections of Her members, the Church is a beautiful and worthwhile institution.

Well. That ignited a malestrom of even uglier responses, and at that point, I did let it go. Because that was the right thing to do, and sometimes, I'm able to do the right thing. Not often enough, for sure, but sometimes I am. I did want to stand up for the Church, but I also did not want to slip into putting my pride first and thereby causing others to have an even more negative impression of Her. There was nothing to be gained by saying anymore, I'd said what I felt I needed to, and then I stepped away. These were all strangers to me anyway, why should I care what they think?

But I tell you, gentle reader, it was HARD. Oh, OH so very difficult! Someone even took my one sentence (and polite, if nothing else) reply and mocked it. It was a long post, I had clearly touched a nerve. And even though I left work feeling like I was snorting my nostrils out and creating new wrinkles in my forehead (such an attractive look), I didn't write anymore.

Interestingly, when I checked the thread again this morning (glutton for punishment), the worst of the comments, like that long one after mine? Gone. Deleted. Must be either by the commenter, or by the original poster of the article. Interesting. So maybe somebody else also thought they were over the top.

But this begs a question: when you hear something that you feel is anti-Catholic, should we say something? Or should we let it go and be an example of humility? St. Francis of Assisi tells us that we should evangelize always, and when necessary, use words. Yesterday, I felt a few words were necessary. But I agonized over whether or not I should say them, and chose them very carefully. And I stand by what I wrote. It was charitable and respectful. I held back a lot of what, emotionally, was roiling inside me. Was it the right thing to do?

In the end, I'm very glad that I chose my few words and otherwise held my tongue. I don't need to spew hatred all over a social networking site. I stand confidently with the Church, who stands firm, despite the weaknesses of Her human members.

And I learned another important lesson: I'm going to hide more things on Facebook when something bothers me. Nobody needs that kind of negativity in their life. Certainly not on something that is designed to help us stay connected to our family and friends.

So, the question of the day...Catholic Librarian: kind and possibly brave, or a cowardly idiot? Discuss. :)


  1. I've been kind of bad about this lately. I have friends that are like cheerleaders for PP and abortion. So if you've noticed lately, my entire wall is almost like a pro-life bulletin board. I get so annoyed with the posts I was seeing on the other side that I started posting several pro-life things a day... but so far I've only had one person post a slightly negative response... but I also have purged my list twice of people who were writing seriously rude things about others...

    It probably infuriated them more that you were above it and didn't stoop to their level!

  2. I think you did the write thing. There is some sort of paraphrased quote that says that the only thing that evil needs to prevail is for good men to do nothing. It's a balance yes. But to say or do nothing at all is equally just as bad. You said your peace and left it alone. And that's what matters.

  3. Cam, I had to laugh yesterday when this was all happening, and saw on my ticker that you were going through the exact same thing, except from the opposite extreme. :)

  4. I saw this play our yesterday and felt for you.

    Facebook is tough because some people feel the need to bombard everyone with their views and others don't pause to think before dashing off comments.

    I know I'm not the only one whose hidden or unfriended people who consistently post vitriolic things.

  5. It's good to speak up when someone is saying something offensive. I don't think that's against charity because it's completely different from a personal attack. Catholics should speak up more often.

  6. Sounds like you did just the right thing. I usually end up getting way too involved in debates and rising to the bait when people say things specifically designed to lure me back in. It never ends well, and people don't come to those debates with an open mind. Speaking up briefly is probably great -- getting in a tussle with a total stranger on a friend's wall probably isn't such a good idea. Wish I had your good sense.


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