Bernardo M. Villegas
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Nurturing Virtues in Digital World

          As a member of the faculty of the University of Asia and the Pacific, I have to do a great deal of mentoring of individual students.  Mentoring in the UA&P system goes much beyond academic counselling and tries to achieve the whole person development of each of the mentees.  A competitive advantage of a small university like UA&P is that there is a high faculty-student ratio and each student is assigned a mentor or tutor, although we avoid using the word tutor because it connotes addressing academic deficiencies in the Philippine educational setting.  What we are doing at UA&P reminds me of my own experience when I was a tutor in one of the “Houses” at Harvard College in the early 1960s.  Harvard just replicated the ancient tradition of Oxford and Cambridge in the U.K. in which some members of the faculty resided with the students in the various residential colleges and acted as tutors whose job was to challenge the students to reach the highest levels of excellence they could attain.  Tutoring had nothing to do with filling in academic gaps.  In these one-on-one sessions, it was inevitable that the students would also ask for advice on how to live a full life beyond just getting good grades.  For the believers, spiritual guidance came naturally.

         Increasingly, one of the important areas in which the mentors of today have to help students in nurturing virtues has to do with the way they use the new information technologies which, if misused or abused, can develop such bad habits as wasting time, perpetrating lies and calumnies, seeking pornographic sites, or plagiarizing the works of others.  Obviously, there is no way the youth of today can avoid actively participating in the digital world.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in the Message on the World Communications Day, January 14, 2013, the digital world can no longer be viewed as simply “a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young.”   Mostly coming from the well-to-do families (although close to 20 per cent of our student population have received scholarships on the basis of financial need), many of our students have easy access to smartphones, tablets, mobile devices, computers, the Internet, etc.  In addition to their being in “permanent contact” with their families and friends, even when they live far apart, they also have easy access to documents and data sources for their research and other academic assignments.

         Fortunately, all the members of our faculty receive advice from competent spiritual directors about how to help our students to realize that the digital world is an environment that requires human and supernatural virtues.  The objective is not just to give a set of rules or a “list of criteria” (although these can be useful), but to help the youth to be “souls of criteria,” persons of sound judgment who are trying to live their faith in every environment, including the so-called “virtual” ones.  Examples of how one can grow in virtue (such as temperance, justice, prudence, fortitude, modesty, etc.) in the use of digital technology are enumerated below:

         --Not putting ourselves in the limelight or speaking unnecessarily about ourselves in personal pages or blogs (growth in humility);

         --“Being in what we are doing” at each moment, turning off our phone and not checking emails, during more intense times of work or study and above all during time dedicated to spiritual acts, such as attending Mass or praying in Church;

         --Having the will power and the order needed not to give in to impatience, and avoiding frequently checking our mobile phone or emails, but rather setting specific moments for this purpose;

         --Acquiring the habit of not answering the mobile phone or sending or answering messages when speaking personally with someone, or during meals and get-together with members of the family or friends, unless it is something especially urgent and important. Besides, doing so would be bad manners;

         --Being temperate in the use of all the possibilities offered by digital devices, tablets and smartphones, moderating the desire to always be informed, the curiosity or eagerness to get immediate answers;

         --Safeguarding our own intimacy and that of others by not making known personal or family information (photographs, recordings, etc.) which, when made available for everyone, only serve to stir up curiosity and vanity;

         --Striving to foster silence, reflection and interior mortification, so as not to be caught up in external concerns, which leads to dispersion and superficiality, and hinders, in the end the time we want to spend in quiet reflection or conversation with God;

         --Fostering the order needed to concentrate on what should be done at each moment, since these means, when used without the required discipline, can easily lead to wasting a lot of time and losing sight of our immediate duty;

         --Avoiding calls or the sending of photos, videos and emails that are unnecessary or frivolous, also so as not to cause others to waste time.

          We also give advice to the parents of our students.  We tell them to take special care to prevent addiction to pornography among their children.  The ease of access to the Internet makes it important to be careful and exercise means of prudence.  Besides helping the youth to develop self-discipline, access to the Internet should be restricted to parts of the home where people frequently pass by, limiting its use (or even eliminating it altogether) on mobile devices and in one’s own room, not accessing it at night, using filters for computers and smartphones, etc.

         As regards social networks, one point of great importance is that of identity.  These networks have become, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote, “an open public square where the people involved in them must make an effort to be authentic since, in the spaces, it is not only ideas and information that are shared, but ultimately our very selves.”  Therefore, we should make clear, to those who need or think it opportune to have a presence on these networks, the importance of showing oneself as one truly is and habitually acts.  One’s personal activity in the digital world should be a reflection of one’s own identity.  It would make no sense to have recourse to ways of acting outside what is habitual in points such as, for instance, human elegance in written messages or in photographs; relationships with others, especially with people of the opposite sex.  More often than not, the type of relationship established with a specific person in such social networks as Facebook or Twitter can be ambiguous.  On the positive side, the digital world (instant messages, social networks, email, etc.) enables one to get in touch with old friends, deepen friendship with specific persons, spread good doctrine and positive news, etc.  Needless to say, all these means are meant to complement, not to replace, “offline,” dealings with relatives and friends.   For comments, my email address is