Catholics think a lot. Dominicans think even more. All that thinking can get us into trouble or it can clarify our thoughts in such a way that we can reach a deeper understanding of a situation, thereby taking an action that is both honorable and true.
Recently I had to make another one of those tough decisions that change the make up of one's life. While this decision is not etched in stone it does provide some distance and peace. For right now I think I made the right decision.
The driving dilemma was the problem of 'lies'. As I have been taught to do, I went to the teachings of the Catholic Church to try and figure out what to do about a specific situation that I feel revolves around the affects of a lie. I knew I had to make a decision. I wanted to make a decision that was solid, true, Catholic and rooted in love.
The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines lying as "Speaking deliberately against one's mind". The definition goes on to clarify what 'speaking deliberately' means and how a lie is not merely a matter of ignorance or misstatement. "When a person tells a lie, he or she says something that is contrary to what is on that person's mind; there is a real opposition between what one says and what one thinks".
Okay...hmmmm...wait a minute. That did not seem complete to me, so I went to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Sure enough, there is a bit more depth to the definition. The Catechism teaches:
2482 "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving." The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: "You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies."
The next paragraph goes on to say:
2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.
Now we are getting somewhere. We see that the Church differentiates between a mere falsehood (Leslie is 7 feet tall) and speaking that falsehood with the intention of deceiving (I am going to tell everyone that Leslie is 7 feet tall because I do not want them to know she is 5'4"). She then teaches that what will determine whether or not this is a venial sin or a mortal sin will be the harm suffered by its victims (Leslie will no longer have any friends because no one wants a woman who is 7 feet tall to be their friend, and that is my intention behind this lie).
All of us have been the subject of false information. Most of the time it was spread without the intention of malice. Someone hears that someone is sick and tells someone else and that person tells another person and then discovers the person was never sick, they were just taking a break from the world and binge watching Fear the Walking Dead, Season 1. This is not a lie, per se. It is repeating a falsehood.
My experience is becoming, however, that in today's world the 'is that person lying?' question can be a heckuva lot more difficult to answer. Why?
I think, and I may be wrong, that Social Media has made deliberate lying a lot more difficult to determine because so many of us react with emotion. If we use the Modern Catholic Dictionary definition, people spew forth an assertion that is powered by anger and pride but they honest to GOD believe what they are spewing. They are not speaking against their own mind. They honestly believe Hilary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor, Obama was born in Nigeria and is a practicing Muslim and Donald Trump pays to watch women urinate on one another. They will bang their fists against a keyboard and declare Pope Francis is a heretic. The safety of a keyboard makes this possible. As an old professor of mine once observed, "the guy hunched over the keyboard at 3am determined to let you know exactly what they think of you is commonplace today".
So the question then becomes, when the person spews forth something that is just flat out not true, are they lying or are they simply speaking their own mind - a mind that is colored with emotion and therefore incapable of discerning Truth.
Recently, I was told that I had 'said' something on Social Media. I had not said it. I could point with accuracy to exactly what I had said. The response I got was a mish mash of accusations and declarations and then a final 'you will always out intellect me' - a statement which I did not understand at all when you consider I am surrounded by people far better educated and lots and lots smarter than moi.
To say that my feelings were hurt would be an understatement. I was shocked. My sense of Justice was deeply wounded (and, boy, I have got a HIGHLY developed sense of Justice when it comes to ME). I was embarrassed and I was concerned that other people who know me would think I had actually said what I had been accused of saying. I felt like I was choking. My heart beat so fast. I realized I felt exactly the same way I always felt growing up when an adult would shout in my face, "LOOK WHAT YOU DID" when I hadn't done anything...anything at all.
Let me tell you what I did:
1. I spoke to my Spiritual Advisor
2. I spoke with my 12 step program sponsor
3. I went before Him in the Blessed Sacrament
4. I asked for help and guidance
I realized that I was trying to hold onto a relationship that was not a healthy one - this is not the first time this had been done, it was simply the first time it had been done so blatantly and on Social Media. I had to ask myself if this relationship was necessary. More importantly, I had to ask myself if the relationship is safe.
Then I had to make sure that I did not take any action in anger. I had to be prepared (if I took the action I was being advised to take) for attempts at manipulation. I was told by someone who doesn't even know the person to watch for subtle efforts to turn my decision into a manifestation of an issue (you must have been triggered - I am so sorry). I was also told not to have any expectation that the other person would take full responsibility for their action.
My advisors helped me find my part and make my apology. I had started a conversation about a hot political topic and one of my points had caused this person a lot of pain. Their response was to hurt and lash out. While that was not my intention, it had been the result of my action. I had to apologize for doing that and then tell them the truth: I am not equipped to be in their life. While I am not responsible for their reaction and not responsible for their posting, I am responsible for hurting them.
Part of growing up for me has been to realize that I cannot be all things to all people, despite St Paul telling me that that is what a Catholic is supposed to be - I just cannot seem to achieve that goal. I am not smart enough, I get easily flummoxed by people with problems I cannot identify. More importantly, I cannot seem to help people who do not see their part in anything. I just can't help them if they are 100 percent right, and yet constantly have problems with their relationships.
I know that any problems I have had in my life were caused by me setting the ball rolling. In this case, I should never have responded to the person's assertion about something. I should have simply said, "Interesting take. Thank you for sharing". By responding, this person thought I was attacking...I thought I was discussing. Shame on me.
There are few people in my life today that I can have discussions with and I treasure them. What I need to start doing is recognizing the warning signs - the comments that are edgy in tone. When I read them, I need to just say, "Thank you...I had not thought about it that way" because that person is not open to discussion. They are not stupid. They are not dumb. They are not wrong or right. They are simply not open to discussion. It is up to me to recognize that - or pay the price. The price today on Social Media is to be accused of saying and writing and doing stuff you never said, wrote or did.
While I understand that a public blog will invite all kinds of comments, I do not need to respond to the ones that are obviously put there to bait. Those comments usually speak for themselves - the majority of people who read them have no problem discerning the intent of the poster.
Neither do I need to have anyone in close proximity to me who does this on a regular basis. I expect in my line of work to deal with this type of situation; however, to deliberately tolerate or invite that behavior into my home or life would be foolish.
My job is to love, to observe, to think and to share the fruits of those thoughts and observations. My job is to be a Dominican in all ways. My job is to be Catholic.
God help me...