Once upon a time, information and wisdom were expensive to accumulate and share. Schools, libraries, subscription organizations, professional associations, publishing houses, and media companies grew up as ways to share the costs of acquiring and sharing information, wisdom, and entertainment.
Today, thanks to how we have developed tools over the Internet and practices using widely available technology (mainly, mobile phones) information, wisdom, and entertainment sharing, creation, and accumulation is more available than ever before. But the practices we learned to manage gathering information and wisdom in the age of relative scarcity are often counterproductive today.
In the age of relative of scarcity, we were encouraged to become masters of subjects. Over time, as wisdom and information accumulated, it was harder and harder to have mastery of an area’s wisdom and information and specialization became more common. But now, even specialists cannot hold all the information and wisdom to their areas of knowledge in their heads. We store it in the cloud, with other people and other individuals, and we access that information. What matters more is how we know where to find answers, how to ask questions with others, how we share what we know and what we’re learning with others, and how we join in self-organizing systems to continue building world knowledge and deepening world wisdom.
The change in access to wisdom and information and in sharing faithfully together was one of the questions arising from an Age of Collaboration Minns Lecture Tweetchat February 12, 2013.
We need to learn new skills and practices to navigate, access, create, and share information and wisdom in our age of abundance. In the age of scarcity, we learned practices of discernment to help us decide whether an area or a question was worth pursuing for mastery. Today, we need practices of discernment to help us participate and contribute meaningfully in this amazing world that is exciting and new wisdom and knowledge is emerging all the time. As the Rev. Sean Parker Dennison observed in the Age of Collaboration Tweetchat (February 12, 2013) “I like [the] framework of discernment - we CAN have all information, but what is healthy for us? what is faithful?”
Those of us who participated in the Feb.12 #minnslecture Tweetchat agreed strongly that our faith communities need to teach social media classes and skills. Our faith communities include our congregations and the networks we have and can reach out and create or join via those same social media. My Age of Collaboration co-lecturer, Peter Bowden, teaches programs to help faith leaders and communities learn how to use social media faithfully, grounded in our values. (You can contact Peter and set up workshops or coaching with him.)
We also learn by doing and by observing. How people of faith use social media teaches others how to use that media. In social media, religious leadership is demonstrated by people who speak openly of how they are living faithfully, ask big questions, invite and join with others in faithful action, study, and creation of resources. Those showing religious leadership may be sharing with others what kind of casserole they are making (Ethical Eating - UUA), and in that sharing they can be joining others in pursuing ethical eating, in care for their bodies, or connecting with others around food because that is a vital way we form community. Those same networks formed come into play again when needing to mobilize for social justice (Religious Institute) or to ask for help or to create together new inspirational resources (UU Media Collaborative).
How do we practice discernment?
Discernment questions ask us to connect with the values we hold as most important. As people of faith, it will help us to name our important values. For me these include: compassion, mercy, gratitude, love, learning, generosity, reverence, forgiveness, peace, life-affirming, interdependence, equality, dignity, and self-control.
I ask several discernment questions, some of which are old discernment questions I learned at the end of the world when one person could know nearly everything there was to know a single enormous subject.
Is it good?
Is it useful?
Is it just?
In our age of enormous numbers of choices, I ask:
Do I need to do this?
Does this challenge me to live more faithfully?
Is this something needed in one of the communities to which I belong?
How can I help?
You will notice there is a difference between the two types of discernment questions. In an age of abundant wisdom and abundant choices, there are also many more people to share in what needs doing. I cannot be involved in social media every minute of the day. Part of the spiritual practice of discernment is trusting that there are others who are part of the network who can share. There are some things I can do easily, like offer encouragement when someone shares a wonderful new resource with me. Sometimes I will check in on social media and discover that, yes, I really need to share something or create something or ask a big question or counter something harmful going on. This is about taking on my responsibilities as a person of faith, being motivated to be part of the community.
Discernment in today’s age is not about reducing risk or avoiding failure. When trade or creating or sharing are very costly, we seek to reduce risk. We might seek to reduce risk so much we become unable to do very much, because we are ruled by fear.
Part of what we need to discern today is how to risk faithfully, accepting that failure is part of the way to success. We do not learn anything new without failing at it first. We do not create anything innovative without failing at it first. If you have ever tried to create a really new sweet with none of the flavors and ratios of liquids to solids and fats to sugars worked out for you (no adaptation of existing recipes) and you think you are making a new cake but come up with an indigestible mass of goo seventeen times before you discover you were developing a new pudding, then you know the process of failing to succeed. As we risk faithfully, we learn through our failures as well as our successes, and try new ways of relating, new ways of creating, new ways of organizing.
Because the world is changing quickly and new ways of being are emerging rapidly right now, it is riskier not to risk failing. This is, in my opinion, especially true for religions and for people of faith. We have a moral imperative to provide alternatives to distraction, dissolution, and despair in this world. We have a calling to help one another make more compassionate communities and healthier and better places to live and to be better people than is easy for us.
Often, we are discerning: is this worth failing at? The answer is usually: yes. Yes, it is worth fumbling with and figuring out how to incorporate spiritual practices into social media based community life. Yes, it is worth failing many times in joining with others to make for an accountable government or to clean up a waterway or to build self-organizing learning centers like Hole in the Wall educational centers. Yes, it is worth risking and failing in discovering how to join in the incredible generosity of many, many people. Yes, it is worth failing many times as we quest for knowledge. If something is truly worth succeeding at, then it is worth failing for, it is worth risking faithfully.
How are you practicing discernment with social media? Where are your limits? How are you risking faithfully? What are you doing to add collectively to the good, the just, and the useful?
Join us for the Age of Collaboration Minns Lecture March 9th in Boston. You can register now for this and for both terrific Minns Lectures March 8-9th; both events are free!