Last night I could not sleep. After trying all the usual remedies — praying, reading, listening to the World Service — I tried checking my Facebook account. I wish I hadn’t. I’m not sure how the algorithms work, but the people popping up on my newsfeed had a great deal to say about other people, none of it complimentary. Indeed, after reading several ill-informed rants, I was myself quite angry — all the more so since many of the people I was reading thought (incorrectly) that they were defending Catholic teaching or advancing the cause of true religion.
I know enough about my own anger, especially when it is pumped up by prednisolone, to realise how easy it is to allow a momentary feeling of annoyance to become something much more serious. Online expressions of anger can become deeply disturbing. Think of the effects of trolling, for example, or the rape and death threats many women have to endure. The anger probably didn’t start like that, but it has become deadly, out of control. Pope Francis has registered how dangerous it is and in Gaudete et Exsultate has said something very sensible and clear:
Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication. Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned. The result is a dangerous dichotomy, since things can be said there that would be unacceptable in public discourse, and people look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others. (Gaudete et Exsultate 115)
Most of us are very contrite when we know we have been offensive, but if we make a habit of lashing out, particularly if we kid ourselves that we are doing so in a good cause, we become insensitive. Our anger takes over. Cassian had many wise things to say about controlling anger and one I find helpful is his recommendation that we should try to be so big-hearted that the waves of anger break on a shore of love that is wide and calm. A shore of love that is wide and calm sounds much more attractive than a seething pot of vitriol, doesn’t it? Perhaps we could all try being big-hearted today.