In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterful study of Abraham Lincoln’s mode of operating within his administration, “Team of Rivals”, she tells an interesting anecdote about Lincoln’s wisdom and his talent in dealing with the often-contentious voices within his Cabinet. She relates that one of the members of his cabinet was furious over the actions of someone else in the Cabinet. In fact, he was so angry that Lincoln perceived the danger that could wreck the unity of his government.
He told this Cabinet member to write a letter to the offending cabinet member detailing the offense and the repercussions envisioned by him. Lincoln wisely added that when he completes the letter that he run it by him first before sending it.
The Cabinet member did just that. After a few days, he produced this long letter and gave it to Lincoln. Lincoln read it while the Cabinet member waited. When Lincoln finished reading the letter, he asked the writer, “How do you feel now that you have written this letter?” He responded, “Much better!” to which Lincoln responded, “Now tear it up!”
Lincoln rightly understood both his need to articulate his anger and how counterproductive it would be when the offending party read it. Luckily, the writer, now detached from his emotions, saw the wisdom of Lincoln’s advice and heeded it. He felt better and the situation corrected itself without the letter’s angry interruption.
In the world of communication, speed has become an inordinate value that can both serve the purpose of this communication or thwart it completely. In the past, when someone had to get a message to another, he or she had to send a written letter or missive. One had to consider each word carefully since it was difficult to erase something once written. It took a long time for it to be delivered.
Once the Internet and the computer became available, it changed many ways of communicating. Books became longer since something did not have to be rewritten completely, but through word processing, thoughts and words can be moved and added to at will. The email meant that I can write a friend and they can read my communication almost instantly, even though they live a continent away! However, that means my thoughts can be uncensored by reflection. Many of us, when angry for instance, have sent a reply that we regret. Often I have learned that if I have a lot of emotion invested in an email, I write it and then do not send it. The following day I reread it before I send it. Often I find I dial back the rhetoric and the emotion since I have a more detached view of what I am trying to say.
Then there is Twitter.
Though I have never used Twitter as a form of communication, I have seen the havoc it can create in politics and religion when someone has immediate access to hundreds, thousands and even millions of followers! While I have known people who carefully choose what they send out on Twitter, it is so immediate and so widespread in effects that it is almost impossible to consistently monitor the effects of a tweet.
When the person communicating is a President or a Pope, the effects of putting out a thought to countless people without reflection or even a second look later on can at best be confusing and at worst destructive. There is little self-discipline in this quick process of producing a tweet.
I am sure there are other vehicles of Internet communication with which I am not familiar. The point of my reflections is that pondering the meaning of what we say and what we write is a very important element in communication. We have a responsibility to be careful in what we say and write. Often one word can have destructive possibilities; and even if not that serious, the thought does not have the time to properly ‘gestate’ in the person.
What a great example we have in Our Lady. Scripture says that she spent much of her time in watching Jesus, her Son, growing and maturing. She pondered these things in her heart. She was the first Christian contemplative.
In this fast-paced world, nothing can take the place of going slowly while considering and pondering things, before we act and before we speak. Who knows how many evils we can avoid by pondering the meaning of things! Seek the Truth slowly and deliberately in the silence of our minds and hearts!