I heard someone say recently that she constructs her identity online and that she didn’t need or want other interactions to interfere. She wanted to design herself as she walked into the future. I doubt this young woman is the only one who seeks and spends what she terms life giving time on the internet. She’s probably not the only one to search for her identity online.
It’s true that we all create ourselves in some part, by discipline, practice, working our way through new ways of dressing, acting, thinking speaking.
But to limit to oneself the creation of oneself online is insular, at the very least. The old adage was “It takes a village to raise a child.” We can also say “It takes a community to shape a person.”
In a community, we rub against people who have been shaped by the beliefs of and interactions with people. Within a community, we’re exposed to sight, sound, smell, texture, arguments, whispered words of love, laughter. We hear the stories of our family members, their life-giving or destructive relationships. Some things community offers are narrow, bigoted, dead wrong. Still, in the history of civilization, for better or for worse, people have lived, survived, thrived in community.
We hear people’s stories of struggle to be with God. Members of the community tell of blessings received, shared or rejected. We learn what it means to lose oneself for the sake of the other, rather than be absorbed in ourselves, incessantly monitoring whether others like us or don’t like us. In a community, if we recognize it only in retrospect, we develop our capacity to grow our capacity for life and for the infinite.
According to Harvard ethicist Michael Sandel, “what it means to be human is in persistent negotiation with what we have been given.” It takes time to recognize and name what we have been given, and evaluate it. Sitting before the computer, we may think we have total control of our lives. In fact, we need to rein whatever control we think we have in cyberspace.
I am not interested in weaning people away from the valuable contributions that computers make to life including some of our psychological functions. But machines leave little room for ambiguity, chaos, God’s kindom. In cyberspace, what room is there for love, forgiveness, reconciliation? Theologian Ilia Delio reminds us that “when God disappears from us, we disappear to ourselves.” What a loss!
The person who is incontrovertibly caught up in desiring to shape his/her own live through cyberspace – that is apart from the community – is like the prodigal son, who says to his father, ”I don’t value my relationship with you. Give me my inheritance and let me go.” Thank God he has the sense, acknowledged the pull to return. The father welcomes him unconditionally. The second son does not. He refuses to be reconciled. Perhaps staying behind – not exploring the possibilities of his own cyberspace – has hardened the second son against forgiveness as a true option for him. Both sons have lost something. Homes that are broken by the choices of family members can be fixed, but not without effort and not without reaching out to God. Reigniting love is the work of everyone. It takes community.~ Sister Joan Sobala