Communicating by Encountering People Where and as They Are
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The invitation to “come and see”, which was part of those first moving encounters of Jesus with the disciples, is also the method for all authentic human communication. In order to tell the truth of life that becomes history (cf. Message for the 54th World Communications Day, 24 January 2020), it is necessary to move beyond the complacent attitude that we “already know” certain things. Instead, we need to go and see them for ourselves, to spend time with people, to listen to their stories and to confront reality, which always in some way surprises us.
“Hitting the streets”
The crisis of the publishing industry risks leading to a reportage created in newsrooms, in front of personal or company computers and on social networks, without ever “hitting the streets”, meeting people face to face to research stories or to verify certain situations first hand. Unless we open ourselves to this kind of encounter, we remain mere spectators, for all the technical innovations that enable us to feel immersed in a larger and more immediate reality. Any instrument proves useful and valuable only to the extent that it motivates us to go out and see things that otherwise we would not know about, to post on the internet news that would not be available elsewhere, to allow for encounters that otherwise would never happen.
The Gospels as news stories
“Come and see” were the first words that Jesus spoke to the disciples who were curious about him following his baptism in the Jordan river (Jn 1:39). More than half a century later, when John, now an old man, wrote his Gospel, he recalled several “newsworthy” details that reveal that he was personally present at the events he reports and demonstrate the impact that the experience had on his life. “It was about the tenth hour”, he noted, that is, about four in the afternoon (cf. v. 39). The next day – John also tells us – Philip told Nathaniel about his encounter with the Messiah. His friend is sceptical and asks: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”. Philip does not try to win him over with good reasons, but simply tells him: “Come and see” (cf. vv. 45-46). “Come and see” is the simplest method to get to know a situation. It is the most honest test of every message, because, in order to know, we need to encounter, to let the person in front of me speak, to let his or her testimony reach me.
Thanks to the courage of many journalists
Journalism too, as an account of reality, calls for an ability to go where no one else thinks of going: a readiness to set out and a desire to see. Curiosity, openness, passion.
Opportunities and hidden dangers on the web
The internet, with its countless social media expressions, can increase the capacity for reporting and sharing, with many more eyes on the world and a constant flood of images and testimonies. Digital technology gives us the possibility of timely first-hand information that is often quite useful. At the same time, the risk of misinformation being spread on social media has become evident to everyone. We have known for some time that news and even images can be easily manipulated, for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism. Being critical in this regard is not about demonizing the internet, but is rather an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received. All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share.
Nothing replaces seeing things at first hand
In communications, nothing can ever completely replace seeing things in person. Some things can only be learned through first-hand experience. We do not communicate merely with words, but with our eyes, the tone of our voice and our gestures. Jesus’ attractiveness to those who met him depended on the truth of his preaching; yet the effectiveness of what he said was inseparable from how he looked at others, from how he acted towards them, and even from his silence. The disciples not only listened to his words; they watched him speak. Indeed in him – the incarnate Logos – the Word took on a face; the invisible God let himself be seen, heard and touched….The word is effective only if it is “seen”, only if it engages us in experience, in dialogue. For this reason, the invitation to “come and see” was, and continues to be, essential.