Think Less, Love More

On St. Teresa of Avila, Facebook, and Arguing with Propaganda

The last few days I have found myself getting caught up in the need to correct others again. Usually what this entails is me reading something just flat out wrong in a Facebook feed, going to some trusted source to check the accuracy of the statement, then posting something along the lines of “Not true actually” followed by a link to said reliable source.

I can hear you now. It is pointless. I know.

I also know that this effort emerges from my own mind, for a need for things to be “right”. It comes from a space in my “head” which tends to see problems as right/wrong, either/or, all/nothing. That is also the space where it can feel pointless and exhausting to argue with the disinformation.

There is another space, however, the space of the “heart”.

Now I am not prone to move into flowery terms like “heart space”. I tend to ground my own work with my patients in the science of what helps us heal. I do not put much stock in remedies that do not have good research behind them. It is also why I believe that there is a discernible truth as to whether there was a creche in the White House during President Obama’s tenure there.

There was.

But there’s the Facebook post … again … thanking God for Melania who has restored the manger scene to the presidential dwelling. Ugh.

History also tells us that there is a danger to refuting the lie. Consider the Rumor Clinics during World War II. They were set up for the express purpose of exposing propaganda, of holding the claims up to the light and showing that they were false. Yet they were dogged by accusations that repeating the rumor only helped the rumor spread.

Because arguing with a lie seems to give the lie power and purpose. It is almost as if arguing with the lie gives it attention that it does not deserve.

We know that our minds work in a similar way. When we have a difficult thought tied to a troubling emotion, it is “sticky”, especially negative thoughts about ourselves. The more we try to say, “But that isn’t true; I can do some things right” the more our brains suggest, “But you do make a lot of mistakes.” “What if you are a failure?” “What if you are not a good … [fill in the blank]?”

The more emotionally charged a thought is, the more we believe it. It is irrelevant as to whether the thought is true or not.

Which brings me back to a better response. Recently, as part of my training at the Shalem Institute, I have been reading through the Miribai Starr translation of The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila. One quote has recently stuck with me:

Remember: if you want to make progress on the path and ascend to the places you have longed for, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love.

I know for myself that I am not having particularly loving thoughts about those who spread disinformation and certainly not about those who produce it. But the more I get caught up in the right/wrong debate, the more I am missing the point.

We are here to love each other, not argue.

And moving into a space that “opens us to love” is not an effort to paper over the differences. The differences are real and important. Yet, to argue first without affirming that we are all in this together only seeks to further divide us.

So I haven’t figured out the complete answer yet, but I know that demeaning others with whom I disagree is not it. Maybe I will keep posting links to Snopes and other fact-checking websites, but I think my best response is to find some way to enter into loving dialogue, not so much in my own “head space” but to invite them into my “heart space”.

clinical social worker, spiritual director, author, husband, father, son, runner in Georgia, co-author of When Anxiety Strikes from Kregel Publications.

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