Finding mercy with, without technology
April 18, 2019
Continuing on the theme of mercy, I’d like to again focus on some concrete ways we can incorporate mercy in our lives.
In this Easter season, we want to focus on Jesus and the new life he provides, a life that should foster a habit of living mercy. As I wrote a couple months ago, "living mercy cannot just be a slogan for the Christian. It must be how we live because it is how Jesus himself told us to live."
Pope Francis recommended Pope St. John Paul II’s document on mercy, "Dives in Misericordia," in which we read that mercy has been removed "from the human heart" in our modern day because, "thanks to the enormous development of science and technology, … [man] has become the master of the earth and has subdued and dominated it." There is a lot to unpack in this one thought from St. John Paul II.
All of us depend on God and his grace to be happy. Whether we live in the developed world or the developing world, we all need Christ to reveal to us how best to be ourselves. We need the Lord in our lives to be truly happy. The first danger of technology, then, is that it can distract us enough from our deep unhappiness to the point we don’t notice it and so fool ourselves into thinking we don’t need God.
What’s more, the Holy Father is saying that the more we feel like we’re in control of our lives, the less likely we are to be merciful to others. This is because the illusion of control in our lives makes it easier to label another’s hardship as the result of their bad choices. Therefore, we become less likely to sympathize and show mercy. Technology can be used for good, but it can also get in the way of building a habit of mercy.
Let us think about the specific technology of the Internet and social media. Nearly everyone agrees that with the rise of blogs and social media, we have seen a precipitous decline in the mercy we pay to one another online. Our little, hand-held screens facilitate our distance from actual human beings more than they bring us closer.
This has produced a remarkable willingness on social media to blast our ideological opponents before we ever really try to engage them. The result has been an ever-increasing segregation toward those voices we want to hear. It has become easier to pass on false narratives that confirm us in our own prejudices but don’t advance the whole truth. Meanwhile, our youth struggle to know how to truly engage with others.
So what can we do? I recommend being intentional about certain forms of behavior when it comes to technology, especially the hand-held kind. Practicing a culture of encounter by focusing on the other in the moment is a way to practice living mercy. So in conversation, especially at a meal, put the phone away. Do not make others wonder if you’re even listening because you are checking a text from someone not there.
When engaged in social media, be careful about what you post. Ask whether you are advancing a culture of mercy or adding to the cacophony of anger. Take the time to pray before you post, before you comment.
Finally, make an effort to encourage the good. Celebrate life, faith, love and mercy through social media. That, too, can help increase the experience of mercy in the world and can help bring Easter alive.
Omar Gutierrez is manager of the archdiocesan Office of Missions and Justice. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.