Trigger warning! Not necessarily, but let’s take a look at the meaning of “being triggered.” The concept actually originated in the field of mental health with the intention of aiding victims of trauma or disorders such as PTSD. For instance, a “trigger warning” may be placed on content involving suicide to prevent those who have struggled with suicidal thoughts or have experienced loss as a result of suicide from reentering into an unhealthy state.
Now, most of us who are familiar with popular culture know that this is not how the concept of being “triggered” is often used. In fact, the popular usage diminishes the real purpose of what it truly means to become triggered. Just scroll through the comments of any Instagram post—it does not even need to be politically controversial—and it is very likely that you will find someone who has been “triggered.” It is almost impossible for anyone to share their thoughts online without allegedly offending others. This may not be news to anyone, but this offense I am speaking of is more nuanced than your old friend from high school unfollowing you because you tweeted about your support for a particular candidate. As this habit of being triggered occurs most often on the political left, it often involves an accusation and questioning of the other’s morality merely because of their religious or traditional viewpoints.
I attended a liberal Catholic Jesuit high school. I met many wonderful people and, most importantly, received a stellar education. I could not, however, simply speak my mind or think out loud in any of my classes. It was not for the fear of others disagreeing with my viewpoints, but the worry that I would be deemed as a less-than-charitable Catholic. Yet, this is precisely what happened. In a very social justice focused Catholic school, I could not speak openly about how birth control distorted the theology of the woman’s body because classmates and teachers claimed that my privilege kept me from understanding why birth control is supposedly so necessary. Furthermore, students would stand up claiming to be triggered because of their personal experience with birth control. Now, contraception is another topic, but I assure you that the Church’s stance is one of the utmost charity and beauty. Like other topics that people become “triggered” by, it must be taught, discussed, and understood properly—which is rarely done.
Another distinction between finding offense and being “triggered” is when one is supposedly triggered and shuns the other person because of the apparent infraction. The response to the offending statement is no longer, “I am offended so I shall have polite discourse or leave the conversation until this blows over,” but rather, “I am offended so I shall create a permanent rift between this person and I.” Many of us have seen this when our long-time friends unfollow us or start social media arguments because we shared our thoughts on a controversial topic, and it is a sad reality.
Let us make one thing clear, when people become triggered, it is most likely because they have a personal tie to the topic at hand. This is vital to recognize, and it is one’s Christian duty to be present to simply listen to someone’s testimony of hardship. Our responsibility, however, does not end when we listen.
Additionally, social media is hardly ever a place for productive dialogue. Therefore, we cannot sit back passively as we watch the morals of our world crumble down and the souls of our brothers and sisters be lost. We must continue to speak for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Furthermore, as social media is a realm that seems to emit a great amount of darkness into our world, we ought to be the light source. If all Catholics were to delete their social media because they believed it to be a source for evil, it would only be because they let it become one. Thus, all the lost souls left on Instagram, Twitter, and the like would be left with no illuminating presence.
Ultimately, it is paramount that our prayer lives fuel our words. It is useless to babble on about God, the Church, and politics on our social media timeline if the Holy Spirit does not have time to fill us with His words. Then, if we feel passionate about and called to highlight a particular truth, we can feel confident that we are doing so out of Spirit-filled inspiration and charity, rather than arrogance. If people are “triggered” by our words, we can discern the true intention behind their meaning and act accordingly with kindness. As Christians, it is a grace, for we cannot go astray if we remain in the Lord and speak boldly and in love.