We live in an age that is painstakingly well-informed, very aware of all types of news. Our awareness transcends the limits of distance: we can just as easily talk on the phone with a friend down the street as we can watch events unfold in real time on the other side of the globe. Thanks to social media, we know copious up-to-the-minute details about the lives of all our friends. The vast body of knowledge available online means that we can Google just about any question, getting all the info we could ever want in seconds. We are constantly receiving updates, notifications, alerts—you name it! By all measures, it’s hard to image how we could be more connected, informed, or aware of what is going on in the world.
For every good or joyful thing we know, it is likely we know many more bad or troubling news items. The world is full of evil, and we know all about it. Knowing about a problem is the first step to fixing it. If we know the world’s problems then we are at least closer to seeing them resolved. As one more person gets in “the know,” we are another step closer to enacting change. This is just one reason why we, as a culture, abhor naïveté and celebrate being a people with our eyes wide open.
On this point, the prophet Isaiah’s words ring with dissonance as he proclaims that the righteous man is he “who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil” (Is 33:15).
Is Isaiah counseling that righteous people should turn a blind eye to evils in the world? Is he saying we shouldn’t be concerned for the plights of others? Is he condemning the work of whistleblowers and activists for justice? Obviously not—for his own prophecy itself is marked by his drawing attention to evils and calling for them to be resolved.
Instead, he calls us to refocus awareness. There are two facets to this refocusing: 1) the information we gather and 2) what we do in response.
First, we often spend much time gathering information of very little value. It is important to know what is going on in the world, but does the information we gather really help to achieve this goal? Often, most of what we gather is idle speculation or unnecessary fluff. Fr. Sertillanges, O.P. put it well in his book The Intellectual Life when speaking of newspapers: “You must know what the papers contain, but they contain so little.” This type of information generally only serves to dissipate our energy and to distract from doing things which are actually helpful. What’s more, there is much high-quality information that we also should pass by, simply because it is not in our power to do anything about it. This is not laziness, but a recognition of our limitations, so that we spend our energies on goals that we can actually achieve instead of wasting it on much talk about things that are outside of our competency.
Second, we must consider how we respond to what we come to know. If we act as if solving the world’s problems depends solely upon us, we shall be disappointed. Jesus Christ is the savior of the world, and we are not he. How, then, are we to best cooperate with him in working for the good of the world? Here, closing our eyes from looking upon evil is also important. Namely, we sometimes need to close our eyes from seeing external evil so we can see the evil in our own hearts and root it out. Often, our activism to solve outside evils can be an excuse or a distraction from rooting out our own vices. In response, we need to look to ourselves and work on growing in holiness first.
In this is the key: the best thing we can do to promote the good of the world is to become saints ourselves. If preoccupation with the world’s evils hinders this pursuit, we would do both the world and ourselves a favor by being a little more ignorant of each newly breaking headline.
This post was originally written by Br. Dominic Koester, O.P.