Monday, December 9, 2013

Mental Viruses and Health

A religious sister, writing in the Kyeongyang magazine, recalls meeting an acquaintance who had returned to Korea from the States and asking if she found the country any different than it was before she left. "There are many things that have improved, she said, but some of the thinking is not to my liking." Asked to explain, she said the classmates she hadn't seen for quite a few years mostly spent their time together bad-mouthing others. There are so many interesting daily events that we could have talked about; it was upsetting, she lamented.

The sister wondered when we began getting involved in gossip, suggesting that the current fascination with the scandals of the rich and famous might have provoked this recurring menu for our conversations, with even our spouses becoming objects of gossip. But she had to admit that the habit has always been with us, with the social networking service (SNS) increasing the tendency to disparage others. What is the reason for this? What joy is gained from alienating another, pointing out faults, expressing ill feeling? Does it make one feel more united with one's group? Make one's strong points stand out? Does one feel better because of it? All questions she is still pondering.

In cyberspace, we can hide behind whatever personal and social mask that suits our purposes, she points out, and be more hurtful than a person standing in Seoul City Square with a microphone. Hurtful comments come to mind, she says, from the image we have of ourselves, and can be so poisonous they can affect our physical and mental health, just as viruses do, even in some cases bringing about death.

Richard Brodie, in his Virus of the Mind, makes the connection, the sister says, between the disease potential of physical viruses and mental viruses.  We pick up a cold not because it is cold, she says, but because of a virus and a weak immune system. Mental viruses act in very much the same way, entering our mental faculties and affecting the way we think and act, if we are not conscientious in watching and filtering what enters the mind. If not, we rarely realize that we have been infected with a mind virus, says Brodie. And, especially troublesome at time when much of our news comes from media sources, we can never be sure that what they are reporting is accurately presented, which means that we should cease from belittling others; we have all been infected by the mass media. The sister reminds us that it doesn't matter whether we use the internet or not, all of us are being influenced by the mental viruses that are always around us.

Because so much of how we see others depends on how we see ourselves, sister would like us to pay attention to the image we have of ourselves, changing that image if necessary. The as-long-as-I-don't-get-hooked-into-this-all-is-well thinking, she says, has to be put aside, replaced by seeing ourselves as having a common destiny and being responsible for all our words and actions. We have to fight against examples of evil, foster the common good, and work for the evangelization of the culture of cyberspace, which is currently filled with spam and hurtful comments. Should we not take upon ourselves the task of ridding cyberspace not only from the viruses that infect its smooth operation but from the mental viruses that keep us from functioning in a manner that will assure us a fulfilled and meaningful life?

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