Take the high road


Our culture lives with a syndrome that has been years in the making and is curable: Knee-Jerk Reaction Syndrome. It started before the advent of social media but took flight with email and website comment boxes. Who hasn’t in haste pressed the “enter” button or posted a comment they’d love to recall? Anyone with even limited access to print and electronic media has been exposed to or perhaps contributed to the vitriol that characterizes so much of the “conversation” in the marketplace. The image looks more like a food fight in the school cafeteria.
In an excellent talk he gave to communicators June 2 at the Catholic Media Conference in St. Louis, Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vt., encouraged his audience to take the high road. Work on building people up, not tearing them down. Be reflective rather than reactive, said Bishop Coyne, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Communications. He embraces social media in a big way because that’s where many people communicate. But he’s also been on the receiving end of nasty online comments. He takes the high road — although tempted to dish out what he’s been dished — in response. He points out to his vitriolic critics that perhaps they should have done what he does: type a response, but don’t send it. Sleep on it, and then delete it. “In our work as communicators, sow the seeds of righteousness and goodness in Christ.”
His advice applies to all of us, whatever our walk in life. Lift up good examples of humanity, charity and grace, he advises. Engage in feeding the hungry, securing housing for the homeless, counseling the troubled or visiting or praying for others. Read chapter four of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul’s advice is timeless: Live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit. … All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” Paul’s words should echo in our heads in this Year of Mercy, and always.
Embracing such advice in our daily lives is easier said than done. Again, Bishop Coyne offers suggestions that make our attempts to take the high road more doable. Stay on topic; keep your eyes focused on Christ, the steady one. Follow the example of St. Therese of Lisieux, a doctor of the church who lived just 24 years on this earth in the late 1800s. She sought holiness in the ordinary, the everyday tasks of life. St. Therese knew that God doesn’t expect perfection. God shows love by mercy and forgiveness. How can we not, in turn, show mercy and forgiveness to others?
Sister Helena Burns, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, observed in a talk she gave at the Catholic Media Conference on June 3 that the way we use media personally impacts how we speak the Gospel. Think about it: have we denigrated anyone online in a comment box? Have we expressed a holier-than-thou attitude on Facebook or Twitter or someone else’s website?
Eliminating Knee-Jerk Reaction Syndrome has to begin with prayer, self-awareness, a desire to be more Christ-like and patient. Think twice, three times before pressing the “send” button or posting a comment.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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2 thoughts on “Take the high road

  1. I was pleasantly surprised to read the headline and accompanying article, “Take the High Road”. My husband’s headstone had just been placed on his grave. On the back side of the stone is his family name, an etching of St. Michael the Archangel with the scales of justice and mercy, and the words ‘take the high road’.
    One of my husband’s first mentors at his place of employment, Bob Waterman, Sr., would encourage Rand to always take the high road. It became his rule of life. Over the years, he learned not to react but to reflect. He knew to sleep on what he had written and then delete if it was not going to achieve a good. He learned how to stay on topic. There were many examples in his adult life of how important it became to him to build people up rather than to tear them down.
    Through his readings, Rand grew to love and admire St. Paul. After he died, many people talked to me about Rand’s compassion and kindness, his humility and patience. I never heard about bitterness or anger. That had been removed. Rand learned to forgive and accept forgiveness.
    One of his partners remembered Rand always advising the young lawyers to take the high road. It is an appropriate and timeless message for all. Thanks, Barb.

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