Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Too Much Information


I know that we are living in the information age, but I think there are times when it's TMI (too much information). I may be a minority here but I'm really not interested in knowing about the private lives of public figures. For example, I have not been nor will I ever be interested in whether David Letterman had sex with women he works with. Call me old fashioned but I think that is between him and his wife and is none of my business.

It seems to me that in the current tell-all, blog-all, tweet-all culture we have, the question of whether we should know so much about the private lives of public figures doesn't get asked. I understand that there can be value in getting some of this information. For example, learning about the various scandals of politicians may empower me to cast an informed vote. Hearing about the latest antics of some star or starlet may provide a cautionary tale that prompts me to look at my own behavior or perhaps avoid a bad decision.

However, I think that there may be a dark side to even well-intentioned spreading of information about the private lives of public figures. First, I believe some of the desire to know such things about them is because we view their humiliation as entertainment. Not exactly good for the soul.

"Speak no evil, that thou mayest not hear it spoken unto thee, and magnify not the faults of others that thine own faults may not appear great; and wish not the abasement of anyone, that thine own abasement be not exposed." (Baha'u'llah, The Persian Hidden Words)

In addition, much of this information overload encourages a kind of media-driven, nationwide session of gossip and backbiting which are likewise spiritually unhealthy.

"Remember, above all, the teaching of Bahá'u'lláh concerning gossip and unseemly talk about others. Stories repeated about others are seldom good. A silent tongue is the safest. Even good may be harmful, if spoken at the wrong time, or to the wrong person." (Abdu'l-Baha, Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 124)

On the flip side, public figures sharing incredibly personal things has become a kind of ritual. These days rather than a confidential visit to a priest you put your stuff out on Facebook ,or Youtube, or go on national television and say things that probably should have been kept to yourself.

"...such confession before people results in one's humiliation and abasement, and God -- exalted be His glory -- wisheth not the humiliation of His servants." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 24)

I think our society is losing any sense of what we really need to know about others and what others really need to know about us. If so, what might that mean for our souls? What would it be like if the private lives of public figures stayed a little more private?