Posted on: 2014-05-30
Source: PeterPaul Akinola

Come this Sunday, the seventh Sunday of Easter, we shall be celebrating our now habitual Communications Sunday. A celebration that we are marking its 48th anniversary this year, and which came into existence as an initiative of the second Vatican Council, to draw the attention of Christian faithfuls and all men and women of goodwill to the complex idea of modern means of social communications.
As its theme for this year, the Holy Father has deemed it fit to look into the question of Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter. By its very idea, this theme pinches in us an awakening to a reality that is too obvious to be denied, too real to be negated and too rampant to pretend not to notice. This fact is the paradox of our modern society where we seem to be so close, while in actuality we are miles apart from each other. In his message, Pope Francis refers to the situation as follows,

Today we are living in a world which is growing ever "smaller" and where, as a result, it would seem to be easier for all of us to be neighbours. Developments in travel and communications technology are bringing us closer and making us more connected, even as globalization makes us increasingly interdependent. Nonetheless, divisions, which are sometimes quite deep, continue to exist within our human family.

In the face of this reality, what are we called to do? How are we going to awaken the conscience of our people to this reality? Are we going to 'siddon' look and watch the misuse of social media become the norm of the day? Or rather than these, are we going to hearken to the voice of reason and not be carried away by the aesthetical and technological aspects of social communications, but actively get involved in also considering its efficacy towards man and his society from the human, moral and religious points of view.

In his exposition, Pope Francis refers to a culture of apathy, the type that sees but is not concerned. Within such a culture, the lack of others in the presence of abundance pricks not our conscience as we appear more and more to be getting used to the situation. This kind of culture is such that traditionally is made reference to when our talking drummers in-tune "bámúbámú la a yó, àwa o mob'ébi n pa omoęnikookan, bámúbámú la yo".
Within such a culture as this, the Holy Father advocates the media as a help close by. According to him, "media can help us to feel closer to another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all." However, this panacea is attainable only if media is employed in its right sense to communicate in a manner that will encourage what the Pope refers to as a Culture of Encounter, whereby we meet and communicate with people as people, created in the image and likeness of God. So doing, the growing means of communications through the media provide for us readily available tools of encountering the other.

The word Encounter is from the Latin word incontrawhich means in front of. Thus, it connotes a presence with and to the other. Consequently, for encounter to take place, there must be a cordial acceptance of the partners for who they are and in truthfulness, and the Pope proposes that its take off point is in the question "who is my neighbour?" (cf. Lk 10:29) which is answered in the parable of the Good Samaritan. As such, for the media to aid us in encountering others, it must bring us to draw near and take responsibility for the other. It must lead us in the words of the Holy Father to not just see other as someone like myself, but ... to make myself like the other. Communications should bring us to the level of being neighbours!

If the aforementioned is to be achieved, then communications should not be geared towards taking advantage of the other, be it materially, emotionally, intellectually or otherwise. Every time our communication sets out with any reason apart from the truth, it is violence to the integrity and dignity of the other. Likewise, every time we neglect people who sincerely need our attention and help on the media, we are in no way different from the priest and levite who see the abandoned man on the road as a stranger and thus walk by!
Wait a minute! Could it be true that some of us are just not interested in these modern day social media? I would think that is as good as denying yourself an opportunity to touch people's lives. It is a moving away from existing reality. According to Leonidas Donskis, "a nation appears (nowadays) as an ensemble of mobile individuals with their logic of life deeply embedded in withdrawal-and-return." If this assertion of Donskis is anything to go by, then self-exclusion from social media is tantamount to a kind of suicide, and Donskis captured it better when he says: "either you are on or you are off." As custodians of right reasoning and effecters of positive changes, we cannot afford to shy away from where people are gathered to be rightly affected or else we shall not be worthy of any nomination apart from that of mercenaries who on seeing the advent of a wolf, run for shelter while exposing the sheep to danger of life!
The media, especially the virtual media of our age need to be evangelized, it needs to be affected positively by 'us' and not to be avoided. Its possibility of building bridge to reach out to its numerous citizens cannot be left untapped in our strive to expand the kingdom of God. According to Pope Francis, "it is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply "connected"; connections need to grow into true encounter. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness."

This call to actively and humanly get involved with and in the media is not a blind call to deny its many other challenges which include the fact that the speed at which communication is effected transcends our capacity for reflection and judgement, thereby running the risk of throwing us off balance in our self-expression; the many opinions being transmitted provides a hiding place for people to cover their whims and caprices; while it is helpful in expanding our knowledge, the media can also make us lose our bearings and the crave for digital connectivity, when not reasonably checked could lead to extreme individualism by isolating us from those closest to us. This last danger can as such make it that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind in the course of reality as we may be putting behind the scene the primary and most effective mode of communication which is person to person, face to face, real, and factual communication.

In the face of these challenges, we are being called to begin by appreciating God for the gift of the social media before anything else; to be calm in our approach to the social media and more prayerful in digesting its content and responding to issues. Pope Francis asserts that "if we are genuinely attentive in listening to others, we will learn to look at the world with different eyes and appreciate the richness of human experience as manifested in different cultures and traditions, and appreciate more fully the important values inspired by Christianity..."
Let us be determined that the challenges of the Pope's message for this year's communications day shall thrust us ahead in dedicating more attention to the social media as a medium of seminating better the kingdom of God of which we have been called to be heralds. Finally, our online communication should go beyond just connections of lines to connection of people. According to Bauman, "the essential distinction of 'networks' - the name selected these days to replace the old-fashioned ideas, believed to be outdated, of 'community' or 'communion' - is precisely this right to unilateral termination. Unlike communities, networks are individually put together and individually reshuffled or dismantled, and rely on the individual will to persist as their sole, however volatile, foundation." May Christ Jesus the Communicator per excellence continue to lead us along His own Way, in order to come to the knowledge of His Truth and thereby attain His Life which He wills for us in abundance. Amen.