Used to be that the people you knew, that you heard the most, were the people you knew in three dimensions. Friends were friends and you joked with them, helped them, failed them, got old with them. They may have moaned about you in private, but they had that privacy in which to complain.
Grownups learn that people posture, even to themselves, and that a public statement, considered and careful, may be more sincere than some smack talk in private. I know this by experience.
I have had many great professors. Once I was doing the student thing and making fun of one of them that I admired greatly. I turned around and he was standing behind me. Thank God, he was a mature man. He knew that my love of him was real and that my behind-his-back smack was for my friends, complaining because that is what childish students do. I was false to him in private, most sincere in my public praise.
We now know many more people by words, social media, than we will ever know well. We assume many things about such folk, but we must stop assuming. The public may be insincere, best face frontward, or it may be that the opinions in public are the most considered. We might pop off in private, but those private musings are a piece of the whole.
We can only know the whole if we love the entire person. You cannot be educated online (not really), only credentialed, because you cannot know a man only online: body, actions, soul, and words make the whole person.
So if we get that, what are we to do? We are awash in words and they matter, if only a bit. They are a fragment of reality, but a shard that sticks into us at every turn. The world that now is cannot be undone without a revolution more dangerous than it is! Instead, we must do what we can as individuals and the thing that is working best for me is a focus on edifying words.
In a whole life, we hear less vulgarity, little hatred, and much kindness if we have picked our community well. People give us their best face, because we are face-to-face and even old friends temper their hard thoughts, because they know us. We all need mercy.A saintly pastor understood that too many negative words could kill the soul, but edifying words could bring energy and life. Father John said:
Edifying words, the writings of the Holy Fathers, prayers, and especially the words of the Word Himself, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, are indeed living water; water runs, and the words flow like water; water refreshes and gives life to the body, and edifying words animate the soul, filling it with peace and joy, or with compunction and contrition for sin.*
In this year of hope, where I look for mercy, I am trying to respond only rarely with negativity. I am trying to find merciful voices and to affirm the good, not the bad. For every angry post or book I read, I am trying to find four or five beautiful poems, songs, or books. Anne Spencer helps.
If you consume vulgarity, profanity, ugliness or simply endless “what is wrong” diatribes, then nobody I trust (psychologist, priest, pundit, or pastor) thinks you will end in a happy place.
I am, God knows, contrite for my sin, but I look for words of mercy, sick of the hate, vulgarity, and irrationality of this age. Just one moment of kindness combined with logic can refresh me.
If I must be awash in words, and to do my job I must be, then may they be edifying words.
My Life in Christ by Saint John of Kronstadt (Kindle Version, location 398)