Does God exist in cyberspace?

Please enjoy this special Christmas Day blog post. Wishing you, your family, and friends a meaningful holiday full of good health and happiness.

I recently finished the book Thank You for Being Late by Thomas L. Friedman. He covers many important topics in this book including Moore’s law, global warming, and the importance of community building.

I will review the book itself in a future post, however one specific anecdote struck me in particular. Friedman describes the best audience question he has ever gotten about one of his books. During an event in Portland, Oregon in 1999, he was asked, “Is God in Cyberspace?”. Friedman writes, “I confess, I didn’t know how to answer his question, which was asked with the utmost sincerity and demanded an answer” (Friedman, 368).

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After reaching out to a mentor and scholar, Rabbi Tzvi Marx, he got his answer. Friedman explains, “In other words, he [Marx] explained, unless we bear witness to God’s presence by our own good deeds, He is not present…We are responsible for making God’s presence manifest by what we do, by the choices we make…Only we can bring Him there [cyberspace] by how we act there” (Friedman, 369).

I would argue that how we bring God anywhere, cyberspace or otherwise, is by how we conduct ourselves, especially as it relates to other people.

It reminds me of a story from the Talmud about a man who comes to see Hillel, a famous Jewish sage, to convert to Judaism. The man asks if Hillel can help him learn the entire Torah while the convert stood on one foot. Hillel said to the man, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it!”

A core value of mine is treating people well by honoring them regardless of their experience, history or social “status”. I didn’t realize it until very recently, but that is why I studied etiquette growing up, by reading books such as How to Be a Gentleman by John Bridges and Debrett’s Guide for the Modern Gentleman. For a long time, I couldn’t explain why I read these books and why they meant so much to me. The answer, I know now, is that how we treat each other is the main way we practice basic humanity, honor ourselves, honor each other, and honor God.

It is one of the reasons I feel called to work on patient experience in the health care setting. If medical professionals can honor patients during a most difficult time in their lives, perhaps patients will pay that care forward in other places as well. Perhaps medical professionals will bring the learning to other places of employment. In other words, I think the work, if done right, could have a positive multiplier-effect.

Learning behaviors that bring honor and respect to people, such as practicing empathy, following up with a nice note, giving encouragement, and acknowledging a whole person including their feelings, hopes, desires, and wants is what underlies etiquette.

For example, in our society it is often polite to send a thank you note after being given a gift. We do this to acknowledge that the gift-giver did something nice for us and we appreciate it, showing we don’t take it for granted. It’s a beautiful process where both the gift-giver and gift-receiver feel meaning.

I find it so unfortunate that in society today, we tend to view etiquette as a stodgy, old, and obsolete way of behaving. More and more, thanks to social media and other forces, we see ourselves as the center of the universe, with others often times just in our way of being able to live the life we want (if you disagree with me, sit in DC traffic for even 20 minutes and observe your behavior and the behavior of other drivers. It is as if everyone else is just in each other’s way of getting where they want to go. Safety, fairness, and even laws feel secondary).

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Practicing etiquette to everyone is at the root of what it means to practice basic humanity and observe the golden rule. If we don’t practice, we forget. I have found it disconcerting to observe people behaving disrespectfully and rudely. It is even worse when we, as a society, glorify those behaviors in Hollywood movies or popular culture (Think “House” or the Ari character in Entourage).

During this holiday season, I have been reflecting a great deal on character and trying to lead a better life of service. Like most people, I struggle, I fall down, and I fail. But, it is my goal in 2019 to struggle a little more, while falling down and failing a little less.

One of the three main topics of this blog is “How we treat each other”. As leaders, our behavior matters so much in this area. We must focus on it and treat it more like a priority. Our behavior impacts others even more so because of our position in leadership. Giving others a positive example and creating practices that remind us all of the right ways to treat others in an imperative.

During the holiday today and as we move into 2019, please join me in reflecting on how we treat each other and what we can do to put a more positive example into the world. Please reach out to me if you have ideas or want to practice together! Please contact me here.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Leaders need to set an example and hold themselves to the highest standards around how to acknowledge and treat other people. We share this earth with 7.53 billion other people. How we get along is a main part of our humanity and how we bring a higher presence into our lives and the lives of others.