Aggressive Media, Part 2

Aggressive Media, Part 2

The soul doesn’t know itself by comparison and differentiation. The soul just is. The soul knows itself through what is now and everything that is, both the dark and the light. The soul triumphs over nothing and therefore cannot be defeated because it is not in the game of succeeding or failing. It does not need to separate the dark from the light. Everything belongs. Fr. Richard Rohr[1]

Violent video-gaming is an obvious and easy target for the label of aggressive media. Other forms of violent media may be less obvious, but they are more widely accepted, embraced by greater numbers of people, and contribute more to the overall culture of violence in society. These include aggressive social media posts, sensationalized news shows, and some sporting events – especially American football. The primary root of our aggression is the need to compare ourselves favorably with others, as well as the related need to label everything as good or evil, right or wrong, and acceptable or unacceptable. Certainly, a large part of what fuels our need to differentiate is language itself because once we name what something is, we automatically assume what it is not. In truth, nothing is as pure as its name implies because nothing is entirely one thing. In truth, everything is exponentially more similar to everything else than it is different. For example, 99.9% of the DNA shaping every human being is shared by every other human being. Even so, our attention is drawn to the 0.1% difference. Everything is a unique mix of countless numbers of shared elements that are lost in our naming.

And that is the fuel that feeds our aggression – that everything is a mix of everything, but we obsess over and protect how different and special we believe ourselves to be. The elements we ingest and breath in everyday that sustain the body we know as us were once stardust from the far corners of the universe. More recently those same elements made up the bodies of others from eras, cultures, civilizations, and races different from our own. When our time on earth is done, those same elements will make up other earthly bodies. Literally and figuratively, we are One – all of us, from the beginning to the present, to the time when there is no more us. Once we label something as different or other than us it is a short journey to believing that it is our enemy, is undesirable, or is a threat. When we perceive something as different, it induces fear because of our seeming lack of knowledge about or familiarity with that person or thing. Thatperson is from another culture, or that dog is a breed I am not familiar with, or those religious beliefs differ from mine, so they must be wrong. Our egos, seeking differences instead of similarities, view them as a threat.

As author Richard Rohr points out in today’s epigraph, our essential nature – our soul – does no such differentiating. It does not label things or people as bad or good, right or wrong, sacred or desecrated. No one thing or person is bad, wrong, or desecrated in and of itself. What is bad or wrong about something or someone is what we and others have done to them, including what we imply from our posts on social media. That is what desecrates. And when we attack someone on social media, or when we support news broadcasts that tell stories intentionally designed to make one person or group appear inferior, or when we hate a sports team other than the team we support, we desecrate something or someone that was created sacred. In that sense, we do violence to them. We also, however, do violence to ourselves since there is so little actual difference between us. Our egoic propensity to differentiate and judge is at odds with our divine essence, our true self, our soul.

When we attack others via social media, even when our posts only indirectly indict another, and even when our critical posts are veiled in complementary language, we attempt to show ourselves as superior by showing another to be inferior. That is how our egos operate when unchecked by love and reason. Our egos are insecure and easily threatened when they are allowed to stray from the inclusive and communal context within which they exist. Social media, through the algorithms that determine what we see, encourages our egos to stray into a self-obsessed, holier-than-thou mode where it must do violence to others to protect and preserve its tiny, but seemingly-precious differentiation. If we want a less violent world, we will begin by moderating our own ego’s tendency to equate difference with threat. We must first seek similarities, and then we can celebrate differences.

This is the 15th in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are mine and are not intended to imply the agreement or support of other individuals or organizations. If you wish to engage with my thoughts, or if you would like to explore contemplative spiritual direction, please contact me directly at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com.


[1] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, Crossroad Publishing, 2019, p. 72.

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