When to Say What?

post office boxesOnce upon a time we lived in a world where news was not instantaneous.  We had to wait for the latest fad to make its way from the coasts to the heartland.  We sent letters that took at least three days to reach their destination.  We did not chat, tweet or facebook.  If we lived in a country far away, it might take weeks for news to reach us.  Even when we lived in the same country, we waited for the nightly news or even the newspaper to let us know what happened.  If the news was of a personal nature, the cost of a long distance phone call was weighed against the delay of hastily scribbled note.  Once upon a time that was our world.  That once upon a time wasn’t very long ago.

Today’s news is instantaneous.  The major news stations keep us informed of breaking news with a ribbon of news across the bottom of our TV screens.  We can see things on the internet moments after they happen–or even as they are happening.  Good old fashioned email allows us to get news slightly more slowly than a status update or a tweet.  Long distance phone calls are practically a foreign concept and international calls have been replaced by Skype.

The advent of practically instantaneous communication has definite advantages.  No longer do we receive a letter and need to wonder what has changed between the sender placing it in a mail box and the recipient removing it from another.  We can communicate with some version of a phone call as an incident is still in progress.  I just wonder if we always should.

A few days ago I was chatting on facebook with a good friend who lives half a world a way.  (See?  I’m not a technophobe!)  While we were in the midst of our conversation, she got a phone call from her family letting her know her brother-in-law had just been hit by a car.  And I mean just.  Emergency services hadn’t arrived yet—though I assume they’d been called.  Everyone was still in motion to get her sister to the hospital, to make sure care for her nieces and nephews was covered.  And my friend on the other side of the globe was walloped with this bad news.

My spiritual side was thankful for the news.  It meant we could both pray for her brother-in-law.  And pray we did.  As my friend became physically ill with concern for her family, I began to wonder if contacting her in the middle of the crisis was the wisest thing.  Within 20 minutes she had news that her brother-in-law was getting lots of stitches and would be bruised, but he was otherwise fine. If she’d found out about the accident at the end of that 20 minutes instead of its beginning, she would’ve still prayed for his complete healing.  She would’ve still been thankful that he wasn’t more seriously injured.  She would not have been ill and distressed all by herself.

When do tell bad news?  When is instantaneous communication a blessing?  When is it a bane?  I’m not sure.  What do you think?

photo courtesy of Jonathan Chasteen

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