On Commentary and Conduct

[ 7 ] Comments

by Bonnie

IntentOne of our core principles at Real Intent is to refrain from controversy for its own sake. In our conversation together about what topics that we discuss privately as a group will be published for the world, we steer continually back to our mission: growing faith, strengthening families, and building community. Unless an issue focuses on a compelling principle that relates to those three, the strife of opinions will usually erode any benefit to talking about it publicly.

We’ve been talking quite animatedly for some time about a recent flap online in which the commentary on breastfeeding in church went viral, with the usual casualties. In fact, to publish now is to ignore the most important of the unwritten rules of the new media (“When Its’ Over, It’s Over, In About The Lifespan Of A Fly”), but that is precisely why we are. Sometimes the commentary needs time to settle to be useful, as anachronistic as that may be in the new age.

Today we are presenting a series of essays through different lenses to consider our culture and conduct in church, and our commentary on all of those.

To begin, here are some thoughts from Samuel B. Hislop, writing officially for the Public Affairs Department at the Mormon Newsroom, but of course not officially for the Church. On their blog two days ago, he commented:

The information age has given birth to the current era of citizen journalism, which allows anyone to post anything to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and a host of other platforms without editorial oversight. A big story, whether true, partly true, untrue or misinterpreted, often undergoes an initial online explosion, where it is read (or partially read), tweeted, re-tweeted, re-shared, and then quickly accepted as fact simply because it reaches a critical mass of attention. …

Whether poor journalism or the drive to be first is to blame, the end result is often widespread misinformation that influences the minds of many, who then pass on judgments without thought. Correcting such inaccuracies and then realigning public opinion is a difficult task, and that’s why excellent reporting, where facts are vetted and put in their proper context, is vital to our society. …

This matter can even have a religious dimension. The way we handle information affects the way we see the world. It is Jesus Christ who said, “The truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Possessing correct facts and applying wise judgment is important to Christians and all believers because it allows us to know whom to trust, make better decisions and not waste time processing false information. This relationship between truth and freedom is important to Mormons. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the Church’s First Presidency, says that “never in the history of the world have we had easier access to more information — some of it true, some of it false, and much of it partially true. Consequently, never in the history of the world has it been more important to learn how to correctly discern between truth and error.” He then adds this caution: “Just because something is printed on paper, appears on the Internet, is frequently repeated, or has a powerful group of followers doesn’t make it true.”

What we read matters. What and how we are willing to debate based on what we read matters. What we say matters. How our minds are changed matters. We hope we speak and debate and consider with real intent, and we hope you do too, because it matters.

Read the next essay: Viral Media

About Bonnie

Living life determined to skid sideways into the grave and say, "MAN, what a ride!"

7 Responses to On Commentary and Conduct

  1. Julia says:

    I am a little confused. You are saying you wanted some time to let the “going viral” settle down, but never address the conflict that “went viral,” the reactions and/or over-reactions, and what lesson should be learned by the incident. As someone who was “at ground zero” and watched the process from inside they group, and saw both over and under-reactions, power grabs and established groups who had been working on creating a cohesive plan, obliterated by a few grabbing for white hot media light, there is a lot that could be dissected and learned. The comment from the newsroom seemed like the least important part of the story.

    • Bonnie says:

      We are publishing articles throughout the day on this subject, Julia. The comment from the newsroom may not seem the most important to you, but it frames our choice to discuss publicly. Ground zero provides some interesting detail in any kind of blast, but it’s notorious for obfuscating larger patterns and causes. I would imagine “what lesson should be learned by the incident” would be an individual thing, and will have a tendency to come out in the commentary when people have distanced themselves somewhat. I would encourage you to share your observations as you feel inclined. Our framing is simply that Truth seldom distills quickly and our reliance on a medium that doesn’t allow that time is highly questionable.

      • Julia says:

        I wanted to come back to this, and thank you for having posts that addressed several important parts of what happened.

        One of the things I have found for myself, as I have decided what to share publicly, and what not to share, that there is the constant conflict between wanting to talk about how it happened, but most of the spaces in which it did happen have rules that give people an expectation of privacy about what they say in those spaces.

        Within myself, I have had the struggle between the fact that I am, by nature a coalition builder, able to move between groups and build up trust, so that I can help make specific projects, legislation, etc. happen. I have burned bridges, but not often, and I struggle with how to deal with people who seem to burn bridges wherever they go, and in this case made a consensus group impossible for the time being.

        I think that this one 8 hour period could be a great learning opportunity to see how going viral backfired a number of plans on a massive scale. I am on one hand tempted by the chance to tell that story by naming names, going in 10 minute increments as the explosion happen. I am sure that post could become provocatively viral.

        On the other hand, that explanation wouldn’t make total sense without sharing confidential information from groups that were tentative about the coalition I was working to build, because they were worried about some of those who were in the middle of those 8 hours. I know what they have told me about their reasons and hesitations. Those 8 hours bear some similarities to experiences that were shared with me, but they are not my stories to tell. They were told to me, because we have worked together before, because they wanted a slow burn success and not a white hot day or two.

        All of the information that I have was given to me as an ally, working towards a common goal, not as a reporter. If I take out all of the context that was shared confidentially, I would only hurt the long term causes I believe in. So, it is by following the general advice not to write without thinking, I find that the “big story” I could share, is not one that I choose to.

  2. Lisa says:

    I guess I have thankfully kept myself out of the loop because I had not heard of the breastfeeding controversy. I love what President Uchtdorf says. My parents many times get upset and hysterical over something that they read on the internet. Simply, because it was on the internet. Satan has power over the internet, too. I take everything with a grain of salt, so to speak.

    • Bonnie says:

      Sometimes it’s great to be out of the loop! We consciously chose not to address it headlong because in our opinion the issue was less about the way that particular controversy unfolded (and we didn’t want to participate in it) than in the larger issues. In a nutshell, in a group it was discussed that a sister who served in YW was released because she breastfed her baby while there. We wanted to address breastfeeding in public, in history, working with each other in church, and other more general issues rather than speaking to the specific, about which few knew much. Such a danger in trying to extrapolate generalities from isolated and ill-defined specifics.

  3. Kate says:

    This is a great kick-off to a great discussion. Thanks, Bonnie.

  4. I started having hunches about this many years ago. It started to seem to me that news stories were seeming too obvious. The good guys and the bad guys were already picked by the story teller/author and I as the audience was expected to agree. I decided that I probably didn’t know enough about the situation and it was better for me to reserve my opinion and just leave it be.

    The internet age makes it difficult because stories can be skewed in any number of directions, but there are so many stories that the burden of bringing the truth to light can seem overwhelming. Also, rumor with her thousand tongues (now million tongues) grabs onto the most emotionally extreme versions of the stories, and a fearful imagination will magnify threats into a huge deal. Add to that the tendency to exaggerate when one feels they are not likely to be taken seriously otherwise, and you have… I don’t know.. A beast.

    One touchstone I have used is to help me know when to withhold judgment is to remind myself that most people have pretty good reasons for what they do, which, if I understood them, would make their actions make more sense. If I feel like I can’t understand both sides of the issue and relate somehow, then generally I don’t know enough.

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