Sometimes, while reading (or watching) the news and the online reaction to it, I get the sense that many of us are looking for Yoda — a wise sage who’s going to stamp his staff on the floor, silence the room and spout a brilliant rebuke, one that will instantly clarify the problem at hand and unite us to take correct action.
We could probably use such a call to quell the raucous global debate, which rages round the clock. Lawmakers routinely trade barbs on Twitter by way of articulating policies. Complex social issues are thrashed out by thousands in Facebook rants and one-line zingers.
The church also manages to wade, often unsteadily, into the fray. A major Catholic broadcaster recently retweeted a column by our own Archbishop Charles Chaput, adding text entirely in uppercase letters — a format that usually translates as “shouting,” digital style. (You could argue that the poster had accidentally hit the “Caps Lock” button, but that’s unlikely, since the remark was repeated five times.)
And during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spring assembly this past week, clergy, academics and pundits sparred online over issues from sexual abuse to social media usage itself.
It’s tempting to think that ours will be the comment or image that will end a given dispute. Yet that “Yoda moment” always seems to elude us, and the ranting continues.
Maybe, then, it’s time to admit that Yoda doesn’t live around here anymore.
Rather than turning our cell phones into bullhorns, perhaps we could accept that the challenges facing us can only be addressed through a messy and mundane process of collaboration, not theatrical one-upmanship.
In an age when environment, economy, enterprise and almost every form of human activity are in some way interconnected on a global scale, we cannot hope to sustain ourselves — or build a world for those to come — through self-righteousness, childish reasoning and schoolyard bullying tactics.
Instead, we will need to listen, even and especially to those with whom we disagree, and commit ourselves to informed dialogue, mutual respect and a desire for the common good.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, recently called for no less as he reflected on the 30th year of his creation. “You can’t just blame one government, one social network or the human spirit,” he wrote in an open letter published on the World Wide Web Foundation’s site. “Simplistic narratives risk exhausting our energy as we chase the symptoms of these problems instead of focusing on their root causes. To get this right, we will need to come together as a global community.”
And the task of getting us all to the table should not be left solely to our leaders, civil or religious. Writing only a few years after the Second World War, Venerable Fulton J. Sheen warned that “divided men … seek a dictator to bring them together, not in the unity of love, but in the false unity of … power, police and politics.” It’s easy, and evil, to forfeit our individual and collective responsibilities by reducing reality to an election.
You don’t have to be a Jedi master to grasp the urgent need to dial down the rhetoric, put aside the polarization, and do our homework on what it means to be citizens of this world and the next, before we lose our lives in both. We don’t need light sabers or levitation to channel the force of love; through courageous, commonplace acts of patience, kindness and compassion, we can radically renew the face of the earth.
And we need to embark on that mission immediately, with all our being. As Yoda (in his quirky syntax) once said, “Do. Or do not. There is no ‘try.’”
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