20 January 2013

Nigeria: Dialogue and Information Management

We live in a world of tales and rumours hence before we accept information, we should be able to reflect and determine if what we have heard is true, good or useful. When I was a parish priest, some people would come to tell me all sorts of stories about others. Very often, the informant would say: "Please, what I'm telling you is confidential."

Reflecting on the principle that the ordinary minds discus people, simple minds discus events and great minds discuss ideas, I tried my best to ask myself, "Is this information really for me?" "What do I do with this information? Very often, some of the information needed discernment.

One day, a woman who often came to my office to tell tales about her colleagues came with very damaging news about the president of her society. I asked her, "would you like me to call the accused so that you can say these things in her presence?" She replied, "It's meant to be confidential but I don't mind." I sent for the accused woman who had been presented to me as a "devil incarnate."

When she arrived, I told the informant to repeat her story. I was shocked that she told a completely opposite story, praising the woman she had earlier destroyed, Fortunately I had the tape of what she had said and I played it back to her in the presence of the accused and she fell on her knees begging, saying that she was tempted by the devil to tell lies against her.

Any information that is not well managed can destroy a whole community or an institution. If we are interested in listening to gossips or tales and acting on the information, we make those living with us and/or working with us become insecure and remain suspects as long as we keep saying: "I heard that..." "I was told that...."

As a matter of fact, mature and secure people do not talk and/or act that way. It is worse when leaders and ministers behave like that and even act on anonymous letters. Very often those who say, "They say", "I heard" betray their own ignorance and insecurity and will end up causing confusion in the communities and institutions they manage; so let us heed the Word of God: "whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble" (Proverbs 21, 23).

It is therefore very important to "Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit (Psalm 34, 13). If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless (James 1, 26). For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit (1 Peter 3, 10).

In information management, the tongue must be properly controlled to reflect the character and integrity of the owner. It can be very embarrassing when some pastors because they have the privilege to mount the pulpit dish out to the congregation the gossips they have pleasantly listened to. Some use the information they got from uncertified and unverified sources to insult people on the pulpit. It is worse when the preacher is speaking against people of other religions with the intention of causing religious acrimony.

The mark of a gentle and self-confident person depends to a large extent on the ability to control the manner of speech as prayed by the psalmist: "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips" (Psalm 141,3)! Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits (Proverbs 18, 21).

In dialogue, every piece of information reflects the temperament of people. How we react to the information can to some extent define the content of our character and maturity. Even dreams and visions have to be subjected to mature reasoning, examination and a critical testing of the spirit because some people may be manipulated by evil spirits in the form of dreams and visions.

Even in dogmatic theology dreams and visions are not articles of faith; at best they can be treated as private opinions that must not be imposed on others. Consequently, dreams and visions are not relevant in jurisprudence because they do not pass the rules of logic.

There is information that is a privileged knowledge. Even if the information is true, the question is whether the information is useful for the community or the institution or to the people who are receiving it. Must the information be used, and if so to what extent and to what end? Even though "the truth shall set you free", the intention of the informant must always be evaluated.

Supposing you are in charge of formation and training of people, how do you manage the information the students tell you about themselves and others. Let us assume that you are aware that a person has committed adultery, do you need to go and tell the partner? If you do, what will be your intention and motive? Would you be happy if your information (truth) leads to divorce; and disintegration of the family including the innocent children? Will telling the truth here, lead to freedom or destruction of the purpose of freedom?

According to the sages God is always willing to bring the sinner to repentance: "You taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are righteous must be kind; and you gave your children reason to hope that you would allow them to repent of their sins (Wisdom 12: 19)."

Some people have turned themselves into information machines whereby the speech is converted to plain text by the system's input recognizer/decoder and simply executed like an output robot or avatar. It is not everything that the eyes see that the mouth must say therefore, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4, 29).

Know that whatever comes out of your mouth speaks of yourself first, and then to others, who will judge you by your words. It is said that it is not the person who insults the king in his back that is killed, but the one who relays the insults to the king. Therefore, be careful of how you manage information and dialogue.

Fr (Prof) Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja, and Consultor for the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (CRRM), Vatican City

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