Most of us were raised with the adage from the Gospel according to St. Matthew (7:1, in case you’re interested in looking it up) – “Judge not lest ye be judged”. We often aren’t reminded that the last bit of that particular chapter is probably the most interesting (7:6) – this is the bit where you don’t give holy things to dogs and “neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you”. I wish I’d have paid more attention to this last bit and less attention to the first bit. And as is the way of things in scriptural texts, this sentiment is repeated in the other Gospels, including one of my personal favourites, Luke 6:39 – “Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?” I have more than one giggle at the thought of Blind Pew and King Lear tumbling over one another into the ditch, then scrambling back up, then doing it all over again, à la Monty Python.
And again in Mark 4: 24-25, there’s a bit about candles and bushels and beds and sowing and reaping. Because Ol’ Mark ain’t nothin’ if he ain’t Mr. Parable. In fact, I have it in fairly good authority that Jesus himself called him Metaphor Mark. But he’s basically talking about, in these verses, being careful what you choose to listen to. And this is excellent advice. Having nothing to do with religion and worship. I just mean in general.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going on some preachy soapbox here. I’m taking a bit of classic literature as an example of what I want to say. All of what I want to say is hinging on one of the most incendiary rights wars to hit western civilization in a hundred years. With the news yesterday that Dr. Henry Morgentaler died came a barrage of tweets and comments and posts. As if Morgentaler himself had invented abortion. I don’t want to talk about my position on the issue is, and it doesn’t really matter to me what your position on the issue is. Here’s what Morgentaler’s death did: it reinforced a few decisions about which I have been fence-sitting lately.
First, that effbook blows chunks. The only reason I went back to effbook at all was to try to find out whether the rumours of a friend’s death were true. After that, I spent some time away from social media. I left Twitter for a while, I closed my effbook account again. I didn’t look at G+. And a funny thing happened. Silence.
It was a little unsettling, realising that I’d been so inundated with social noise. Allow me, like Metaphor Mark, to talk in a somewhat roundabout manner for a moment.
During recess in seventh grade, my friend (the long-suffering Sarah) and I used to sneak into the girls’ change room and climb up on top of the lockers. She could, in fact, fold herself into a locker. I probably could have too, but didn’t much fancy having to explain myself if I couldn’t pop back out as required when the bell sounded. We had glow-in-the-dark keychains (they were all the rage, you know) and we’d stand on benches and charge them up under the lights, then we’d close the lights and climb up on top of the lockers by the depleted uranium glow of our latchkeys.
We didn’t talk. We lay there on top of the lockers, the tops of our heads touching, our faces inches from the ceiling, watching the glow slowly subside. At first, the din from the other students in the school was dully audible through cinderblock walls. But as the students finished their lunches and raced outside for their allotted fifteen minutes of air and sunlight, the muted sounds began to ebb until Sarah and I were left in total darkness, in total silence, but for the occasional clack of teachers’ footsteps in the halls on their way to supervision duty. I learned to listen for the sound of my heart beating. Sometimes, there were entire minutes of complete silence before the bell would ring or someone would run giggling through the halls or a toilet would flush. We ached for those moments of silence.
I suppose it was a kind of meditation. From the moment I woke up in the morning (to the dulcet tones of CKBI radio) to the time I fell asleep at night, there was always noise. Not just sound. Noise. At school, I was surrounded by it. Constant chatter. Someone was always talking, or coughing, or humming, or laughing, or crying, or shouting. There were voices everywhere. It wasn’t until Sarah and I discovered that two feet of dead space above the lockers in the girls’ change room that I understood that all that noise took a toll. It wasn’t until I learned I could shut it all off that I realised I needed to. I learned to cherish silence, and to cherish the friends I have with whom I can share silence.
Of course, our little chancel was short-lived. One of the mean girls figured out what we were up to and invited all her closest mean girl friends to a little “party” in the girls’ change room at lunch one time. They all gathered in the main part of the change room and talked about us* (they thought we had just been hanging out in the change room; they didn’t know about the space above the lockers) and their plans to make life horrible for us because we were, of course, lesbians. Sorry: Lesbos. And dykes. Because, you know, lesbo is bad enough, but dykes are actually a threat to democracy. Or whatever. Anyway, their squeals and shrieks brought the gym teacher into the change room, and she shooed all the mean girls out, but not before Head Mean Girl spilled the beans that Sarah and I went in there every recess and didn’t come outside with everyone else.
So, after that, the gym teacher staked out the change room, sitting outside the door with her lunch. We were still able to get past her from time to time, until another one of our classmates happened in there when we were climbing up. She, of course, being the Responsible Young Woman that she was, told the teacher that we were climbing on the lockers, and then the jig was up. They didn’t go as far as putting up pigeon spikes, but it was damned close.
Now my POINT with this rambling story is that there is too much ‘social noise’ sometimes. That all the sharing sites, the comments, the chat windows, the constantly-accessible text conversations…they all happen at once. We’re unlearning how to have simple, one-to-one communication. In fact, I think what’s happening with some of this is that it isn’t communication at all, if the definition of “communication” involves back and forth discourse. Often what we are doing is broadcasting, which I guess is a form of communication, but it usually isn’t reciprocal.
And nowhere did this become more apparent than when I happened to see a post that read “Henry Morgentaler died today. 90 years too late.” And that upset me. I thought for a moment about muting that person’s feed from my lists, and then I thought, ‘no. The problem isn’t with that person; the problem is with me.’ Because at some point, we need to take care about what we choose to listen to. About what we let through. Sometimes, the easiest way to ‘judge not’ is to ‘listen not’. (Thank you, Master Yoda.) And that is why I wish we’d been taught heavier on “neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” and lighter on “judge not lest ye be judged”.
*The Mean Girls didn’t know Sarah and I were in the changeroom with them. They didn’t see us on top of the lockers. So we heard everything they said about us.