If you have visited this site before then you know that periodically I like to take the time to encourage my readers to get involved in new media, beyond simple passive engagement. I do so not because I am some great tech-media guru, but because my experience thus far has proven to be so worthwhile, with respect to the connections I have made, and how those connections have opened my mind to new possibilities, new experiences, and new ways of thinking, that I want to encourage others to experience the same joy of learning, discovery, and the formation of new friendships. Never forgetting that the patron of this blog, Count Baldassare Castiglione, has much wisdom to share with us across the centuries, it might be useful to read some of what he has to say about forming worthwhile connections, and then consider how we might go about using the tools of new media to form them.
Castiglione writes that it is a good idea for us to have a particularly close friend or two, with whom we can be completely open about everything. However he counsels that such discussions of deeply personal matters should be limited to private moments, rather than broadcast for all to hear – something which our present culture, sprawled out on Oprah Winfrey’s cheap, pop psychology couch with its bathrobe hanging open, ought to take into consideration. Castiglione suggests that it is in the careful selection of a friend or friends whom we can trust, and who is more or less “another self”, as it were, that we will be able to have the kind of reinforcement of encouraging our character that we all need. “And in all this I am speaking of the good and virtuous,” he writes, “for the friendship of the wicked is not friendship.”
However he goes on to say that part of that reinforcement of character comes from how we engage with other friends and acquaintances, who are perhaps not quite as close to us. Castiglione recognizes that being out and about in the world means that we may have to associate with people who are very different from ourselves. That being said, he writes that the courtier must remain true to himself:
And he will accomplish this if he be courteous, kind, generous, affable, and mild with others, zealous and active to serve and guard his friends’ welfare and honor both absent and present, enduring such of their natural defects as are endurable, without breaking with them for slight cause, and correcting in himself those that are kindly pointed out.
This is rather strong counsel, indeed, on how we are to relate to one another. Yet I also see it as an encouragement, on the part of our beloved Count, with respect to the formation of new connections. This is where, for many of us, new media can be a wonderful tool for reaching out to others and forming good, encouraging connections with others, that can potentially become friendships as well. For as Castiglione notes, a good friendship is one that is both zealous and service-oriented.
Regular readers of these pages know that I am a proud practitioner of popery. Therefore it should come as no surprise that some of these, highly unusual connections and opportunities have come out of my Catholic Faith. I would like to share three examples of this which all occurred over this past weekend, as I believe they are illustrative of what can happen if you get involved in new media and make good use of it, hopefully along the lines Castiglione intended.
Via social media, I met my friend Deacon Kyle Sanders, a seminarian in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and have had the chance to meet him in real life on two occasions so far, when he has visited the capital. Deacon Kyle recently suffered an horrific ankle dislocation, and was scheduled to undergo surgery this past Friday. In conversation I pointed out to him that his surgery was to take place on the Feast of St. Toribio de Mogrovejo, a Spanish saint who founded the first seminary in the Americas; I suggested that it might be a good idea to ask for his intercession, seeing as how he was a good patron saint for seminarians. What happened next is really rather extraordinary, as you can read on Deacon Kyle’s blog post from Friday.
On Saturday, I was asked to be on the “Catholic Weekend” show over at SQPN.com, which you can listen to here. Toward the end of the program, the guests took part in a Catholic trivia quiz, and one of the questions happened to be about St. Toribio. This gave me the opportunity to share Deacon Kyle’s experience with others, who might not otherwise have come across it, leading to the possibility of more people getting in touch with him through his blog, or wanting to learn more about the life and work of St. Toribio.
Then on Sunday, via my side project Catholic Barcelona, I received an inquiry through the site’s contact form from a young lady living in Barcelona. She is a native English speaker studying Spanish there, and was interested in the possibility of becoming a Catholic, but wanted to know whether I knew of anywhere she could contact in the city to discuss this in English. With the help of a friend in Barcelona, whom I met via social media long before meeting in person, I gave her the contact information for the English-speaking Catholic community there, asking her to follow up with me if that did not lead anywhere. Hopefully she will be able to find the assistance she needs as she prepares to cross the Tiber, and I wish her the best as she does so.
While the preceding examples all have to do with Catholicism, by no means is that the only way by which I have been fortunate enough to connect to others. Whether it is Topher Matthews at the Georgetown Metropolitan and Shaun Courtney over at the Georgetown Patch liking and linking to my blog post yesterday on a new show at a local art gallery, engaging in what my sister likes to refer to as online “hoarding” over at Pinterest, or enjoying exchanges of information and wordplay on Twitter, Facebook, and so on, there are many opportunities provided by these resources to create or deepen friendships and connections. It is only a question of taking the time to remember that these must be balanced by real-life relationships and interactions as well, otherwise they are merely an exercise in providing the brain with dopamine. And in all cases, trying to be that zealous and service-oriented advocate which Castiglione describes is something which I often fall short of, but try my best to keep in mind and act upon as best I can.
And with all of that being said, I would turn the mirror in your direction and point out that there is nothing to stop you, gentle reader, from doing the same thing. You do not have to be a blogger, or a viral filmmaker, or a podcaster to be able to reach out via new media. If you like a blog, or a video, or a podcast, for example, then leaving comments and engaging with the creators of that content, as well as with others who enjoy the content, is a terrific way to start building these types of connections. Yes, I know, many times comment boards and the like are filled with people looking for a fight, but Castiglione would tell you that there is no need to even engage in this: focus instead on engaging with those whom you find interesting.
There is so much negative content now in our media, that there really should be a greater effort on our part to bypass it, rather than deal with the perversity and cheapness of what presently passes for both news and entertainment. Fortunately, new media outlets provide us not only with such a bypass, but also with a way to connect directly with others who share our interests, and whose support can prove edifying to our character. I would encourage the reader to take the words of Castiglione to heart, and consider interacting more actively with others through these new resources. The benefits of building positive connections, productive communities, and being of service to others will be worth whatever investment you make.