Online social networking is a phenomenon that's changed the entire landscape of communication, from marketing products and sharing news to keeping up with friends and family. The ability to spread information quickly and broadly has incredible appeal – and power. And its influence is worth some scrutiny.
A new book, "Connected," by Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and James Fowler, an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, examines years of research and concludes that "social networks, both offline and online, are crucial in understanding everything from voting patterns to the spread of disease" (Elizabeth Landau, "Obesity, STDs flow in social networks," cnn.com).
The book focuses on any number of ways networking with a broad group of friends can affect the overall population. The authors maintain that finding the hubs of social networks can be invaluable from a public health point of view. For example, as the article pointed out, they put forth the idea that "instead of vaccinating everyone in a population against a disease, it may be just as effective to choose people at random and ask them to name their closest friends, then vaccinate those friends." Or, try this idea on for size: Their book states, "If a mutual friend becomes obese, it nearly triples a person's risk of becoming obese." The book maintains that geography doesn't matter and that you can still gain weight even if a friend 1,000 miles away gets bigger.
What these studies indicate is the spreadable nature of thought – that consciousness is not confined to locality; that thought is substance and is catching, for good or ill; and that physical presence isn't a necessary component in the universe of thought. It also points out the importance of being vigilant to erroneous influences. One of the central points of Christian Science is that very fact. Mary Baker Eddy advised, "In a world of sin and sensuality hastening to a greater development of power, it is wise earnestly to consider whether it is the human mind or the divine Mind which is influencing one" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pp. 82–83). No doubt, there's much good that goes on among networking channels – and the influence of such good is enormous. But there's also a need to guard against the false directives that would take us down unproductive paths. No one really wants a friend to gain weight or catch a disease.
The truth is, each one of us is connected to the divine Mind, God, in the tightest network that exists. Our thoughts are not foreign to God because they originate with Him. "I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end" (Jer. 29:11). The true hub of the universe of ideas is found in Mind, and like the spokes of a wheel, our good thoughts radiate out from that one divine source.
When we realize this fact, it becomes clear that power can never originate in a human mind, but rather has its origin in the grace of Soul and the charity of Love. Jesus knew his and others' precise connection to God, and the effect of this understanding was healing and regeneration. Mrs. Eddy referred to healing in Jesus' way as "a divine influence ever present in human consciousness and repeating itself..." (Science and Health, p. xi). The truth Jesus taught and practiced proved that healing power wasn't his personally, but available to all to demonstrate and use – and Christian Science is the full explanation of this fact.
A man with great authority, a centurion, once requested Jesus' help. His servant, whom he favored, was near death. Although he was used to giving orders and directing the actions of those who reported to him, in this case he sought a higher authority, an influence beyond human power, beyond a circle of friends. He wanted the Christ. But when Jesus was close to his home, the centurion made a startling declaration. He said, "Say in a word, and my servant shall be healed." The faith of this man deeply impressed Jesus. The centurion must have glimpsed that the healing power of the Christ had no connection with time, location, touch, or even face-to-face communication. "And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick" (see Luke 7:6–10).
You could say that the centurion's network of friends helped save his servant's life. These friends mobilized and reached out to the Christ, delivered the centurion's message, and all benefited from the resulting healing. Isn't that what our connections should do as well? Within the circle of our friends and contacts – which for many has become exponential because of social networking – what we share can be for the benefit of all, spreading thoughts from a divine origin that affect the greater good and ultimately heal. The real pattern of our networks should be to see the spread of this healing Christ, an influence of health and well-being.
Adapted from an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel.