A couple of things came together for me today.
One is a column by Catholic writer Ron Rolheiser I’d stuck into a file folder some years ago, about the need to admire. “One of the defining traits of human maturity is the capacity to admire,” Rolheiser writes. He quotes Thomas Aquinas who said that to withhold a compliment from someone is a sin — because we’re withholding food a person needs to live. But, adds Rolheiser, admiring others is also food we need. Admiration opens us to others, it sees clearly those who do as well or better than we. As per Hugo of St. Victor’s words, which Rolheiser also quotes, “Love is the eye!” (Read the whole column here.)
The other is realizing anew the amazing capacity of the internet and other electronic media to connect us with people. Consider links, for example. The computer cursor moves over a word that also exists as a link, and click, another world opens, and there, more clicks await to take us to other places and people if we wish, and on it goes. I know this is old, old stuff by now. But what’s involved in considering if and who and what to link to in a blog? And in the time it takes to create the link? Sometimes a link is simply there as a short cut to information, yes, or as a way of setting up a bit of an argument or response. But I think links can also embody a kind of admiration.
Such admiration of another person or their ideas, or at least attention to them, is always implied, of course, in writing that references the work and stories of others, and in scholarly work will be properly footnoted. But the way the internet is increasingly able to link to sources directly, and to those who build into one’s life (for me, the bones I borrow, and borrow), the admiration is not only more immediate, but deeper in a risky sort of way. It’s like introducing a friend to someone else at a party who may be much more interesting than you are, leaving you sipping at your drink with no one to talk to!
Another example comes my way via Facebook. One friend updated her status by speaking of her discouragement about an art project she was working on. Some time later, she returned to find a whole row of encouragements and also admiration for her work. “It’s truly amazing,” she wrote, “that Facebook (which is derided by so many) can reduce me to productive, cleansing tears.”
There is plenty to critique and to worry about in contemporary electronic communication — its addictive nature, its effects on attention and time, and so on — but there’s also room in it to practice life-giving admiration. Food for others, and food for ourselves.