By DR. BERNARDO M. VILLEGAS
Parents and educators are being told that the youth who belong to the Y (millennials) and Z (born after 2000) generations today are easily distracted, unable to focus on anything for more than a few minutes, and find it difficult to live the virtue of temperance. Here again, let me say as an educator that there is nothing inherently wrong with the moral fiber or character of the youth. They may manifest some of these weaknesses of character, not because they are inherently less capable of virtue than the baby boomers or the X generation, but because of the pressure that the digital age is exerting on them. As described in a recent article that appeared in www.opusdei.org entitled “Interior Quiet in the Digital Age,” all of us, not only the youth, are bombarded with an ever-increasing volume of constantly available information. We no longer are surprised to receive news from faraway places in real time (as in the case of the 13 Thai youth trapped in a cave or the World Cup matches in Russia). This rapid supply of facts poses to us especially the challenge of how to manage correctly so much information from so many different sources. Because they are still in the formative stages of their character, the youth have a special difficulty meeting this challenge.
Those of us who are older may have already developed certain good habits of cultivating a reflective attitude which enables us to cope with the growing amount of information available and discern the data that is truly worthwhile. The easily impressionable young, however, may find it more difficult to cope with such an information explosion. The speed with which information is communicated (especially through their increasingly sophisticated smart phones) may exceed their capacity for reflection and judgment, making it very difficult for them to achieve more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. Since a wide variety of different stimuli may demand their attention (text messages, photos, music, etc.), they face the risk of getting used to responding to them immediately, setting aside the activity they are intending to carry out (especially serious study). Parents and educators must try their best to convince the young that silence too is part of the process of communication. It opens up moments of reflection that enable them to absorb what they have perceived and to give an appropriate response. Pope Francis asked people to pray that “the men and women of our time, often overwhelmed by the noise around them, may rediscover the value of silence and know how to listen to God and their brothers and sisters.”
It may be easier said than done but there is no alternative to teaching the youth to learn how to guard their external (their eyes and ears) and internal senses (memory and imagination) in order to attain the interior recollection that allows them to put their attention into the work at hand. This applies especially to the use of the electronic media, which like all material goods, should be used in moderation. The virtue of temperance is an ally in the preservation of our inner freedom as we enter the digital world. To make right choices in the use of electronic devices and services, even when these are free, we must consider not only their appeal or utility, but also whether or not they are in keeping with a temperate lifestyle. One must ask herself if the device or the app will help her make better use of her time, or will it simply be a source of distractions. Do the additional features, which come in rapid fire fashion, justify another purchase, or could she continue to make do with what she already has.
The use of the new technologies will depend on the particular circumstances and needs of each one. Everyone, helped by the advice of more experienced mentors, has to find his or her own measure. It is important to always ask ourselves if we are being moderate. Emails, for example, can be useful to stay close to a friend, but if they become so numerous that they entail constant interruptions in our work or study, we would probably be already falling into frivolity and wasting time. It is self-mastery that can help us overcome our impatience and to leave the answer for later, so we can devote ourselves to a task requiring concentration, or simply pay attention to the person with whom we are talking.
To develop the virtue of temperance in the use of digital technologies, one can limit Internet access to specific times, deciding in advance the number of times a day we will check social media or look at emails; disconnecting electronic devices at night; avoiding their use during meals and when greater recollection is called for, such as during days of a spiritual retreat. It is advisable to access the Internet only at appropriate times and places, so that we do not end up surfing the web without a specific purpose, and thus run the risk of encountering sites that contain immoral content or at least involve a total waste of time.
The youth of today must be especially convinced that learning for them is necessarily a lifetime process. They must have the habit of constantly studying new things to cope with the exploding amount of knowledge that scientific advances bring with them. This habit of study, which directs the desire for knowledge to higher goals, is usually seen as being related to temperance. The eagerness for knowledge is enriched when it is directed to the service of others, such as the desire of some millennials to learn all about fintech in order to help the unbanked among the poor to have access to credit and other banking services. I know of young professionals who have used the contacts provided by the GoNegosyo program of the Department of Trade and Industry to learn all about urban gardening so that they can help poor households grow their own nutritious food and even produce a surplus for sale to augment their meagre incomes. This constant desire to learn new things should be distinguished from a restless concern for what is happening in the world, with a curiosity shown, for example, in the desire to be informed about everything and not wanting to miss a single thing. This can only lead to superficiality and intellectual dispersion. One should always resist the temptation of setting aside an obligatory task or study project in order take up another “less profitable study,” such as checking the latest news or replying to an email.
Besides helping us devote some time during the day to conversing with our Creator, silence also leads us to be attentive to others and reinforces fraternity, enabling us to recognize people who need help, charity and love. Pope Francis invites us to “recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen…if we are genuinely attentive to listening to others, we will learn to look at the world with different eyes and come to appreciate the richness of human experience as manifested in different cultures and traditions.” More than ever in the digital age, we must rediscover the value of silence.
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