Are you a jerk?
I am a big jerk—for a list of reasons I will mostly not explain to you. But I will tell you part of the reason is because I really dislike mean people. I hate the biting sarcasm and searing disdain and I particularly dislike when Catholics act this way towards one another, especially online. It makes me absolutely crazy when I see someone drawing and quartering a fellow Catholic, putting down their (good) initiatives because they’re not “good enough” or ripping them apart personally.
I get that public personalities should have thick skin. If we’re “putting something out there” we should expect to “get it back.” I get that everyone is entitled to my their own opinion. And I absolutely get that sometimes within the Catholic sphere people do wrong things publicly and must be corrected publicly. But that’s not really what I’m referring to. I’m not so much talking about the correction of those going astray, but rather good old public shaming—for reasons as silly as an unfortunate name for a well-meaning campaign or humiliating those who prefer one hygienic practice over another.
Eventually I end up doing what any self-respecting wanna-be writer would do: I respond in kind. It’s just so darn easy to type out those seething comments and put all my anger out into the void. Unfortunately I don’t feel any better for it, though; in fact I usually feel worse. I end up going all judgy and preachy and self-righteous and in the process I make myself into exactly the same thing that I’m preaching against. A great big jerk.
And the irony isn’t lost on me. I realize that I’m attempting to bring someone down because they are bringing someone else down, and it’s enough to give me pause. It’s like Jeff Foxworthy: in his stand-up comedy routine he laughs about parents teaching their kids not to hit others—by slapping them. Is it ever okay, or effective rather, to attempt to change someone’s mind or heart by unleashing all the cynicism and rancour you have in your own? What does that accomplish or prove?
It proves that we’re an angry lot who lack self-control, for one. It also proves that we don’t quite understand the idiom that says you catch more flies with honey rather than vinegar. But more than these, I think this kind of behaviour speaks volumes about the discord present within the meanie, and that discord sows more discord. Do we really want to be “that guy” sowing disharmony wherever we go in the righteous name of Catholicism?
We don’t have to be. We all have a choice in how we act, and in how we react. More often than not we can (and should) choose to keep our mouths shut and our fingers tied down. Don’t worry. You won’t explode. Owning a computer and being able to read doesn’t make us experts in every subject out there and we do not have to weigh into every debate we encounter. It’s rather a matter for right judgment and for the Holy Spirit to know when and how we should respond when the going gets rough. The Lord did say that when we’ve been hurt we must turn the other cheek—not pound that combox with as much hostility as we can muster. I think I would have remembered if he had’ve said that.
Photo credit: By User Gflores on en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.