The Wounds of Social Media Violence
Perhaps parishes can serve as the “field hospitals” to treat the wounds of social media violence.
Anyone involved in the more social side of social media cannot help seeing the growing polarisation based on race that surrounds our civic (but often not so civil) dialogue.
Whether it is comments on the death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the crimen injura use of the K-word, or the very strange “punishment” meted out to Athol Trollip in Nelson Mandela Metro, we live in a very difficult space and one where we dare not face race as an issue.
Recently, the priests of the archdiocese of Pretoria spent a morning to begin the process of discussing the reality of a race-based history. I thought it was a very brave move on the part of our Council of Priests to surface and begin to start the discussion.
Among the very diverse group of priests, the discussion revolved around how the attitudes that at the root of racism — such as a lack of empathy, belief in a group superiority, and an ability to “cut off” humanity not like myself — also underpin tribalism.
Many of our priests do not come from South Africa and share our unique experience of race, but many can powerfully identify with the deep destruction of the possibility of interpersonal relationship caused by Group Think.
No Safe Spaces on Social Media
Last night I watched a video of a confrontation on a domestic flight. While I cannot comment on the merits of the case, one line in the discussion caught my attention. A passenger commented to the captain of the flight that there was a duty to protect passengers from violence of thought and language.
I’m not sure myself if such a duty exists, but being aware of the extreme pain and hurt that we carry as South African baggage, we all need to find spaces where we can talk and listen.
I honestly don’t think safe spaces exist on social media. In fact, with the example of world leaders such as Donald Trump, social media is increasingly taking the place of propaganda posters in the lead-up to the Second World War: short, powerful messages that punch down the possibility of discussion. If we are honest, these short messages make for an easier world — polarised and possibly cleaner — than our real lives.
Perhaps our parish and faith communities are the spaces where we can begin to safely explore the issues of the historical hurts and injustices we all carry around.
What We Have Lost
In our parish community we run a bereavement course. This course gives those who are grieving and struggling to come to terms with death and loss – the space to explore where their stories and journeys are honoured. We have recently broadened the scope of the course to include loss — because much trouble in our culture is a failure to deal with loss.
Recently, speaking to a colleague, we floated the idea that so much of our South African story is the story of loss. Loss of land, loss of story, loss of dignity, loss of place, loss of security and certainty. Maybe even a loss of history.
If we approach our discussion from a space of loss, we might be able to deal with the emotions that are so real to so many. It is only in being in a safe, supportive environment that we are able to tell this convoluted, complex, painful story that is the story of conquest, colonisation, exploitation and disempowerment.
The work of such organisations as the Goedgedacht Forum, which provide structured accompaniment to groups exploring this story of loss, might provide a possibility of getting parish communities to create the “safe space” for this discussion to begin.
Leadership in Health and Education
In reality, South Africa needs definitive leadership into the safe space. If we face the Church’s role in the history of South Africa, we provided passionate leadership in health and education — the things I always come back to in my writing.
Maybe the time now is not to create clinics or schools but to make parishes the “field hospitals” which may treat the wounds of the psychological violence of our non-civil discourse.
Our challenge then is to create the space and leadership that recognises that in every parish community, we are a people deeply wounded by being part of a violent history.
Brave skills are needed to continue this exploration.