“#Rules_of_Engagement: 8 Christian Habits for Being Good and Doing Good Online.”  By Ann M. Garrido.  Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2021.  112 pages.  Paperback: $13.95; Kindle: $10.49: Nook: $10.49.

Ann Garrido’s new book, “#Rules_of_Engagement,” couldn’t be more timely.  Even before the Covid-19 pandemic relegated many of us to online communication almost exclusively, we had, over the past decade or so, become more and more enamored of social media platforms as a way of interacting with other people.  As this phenomenon has become embedded in our culture, the good, the bad and, sorry to say, the ugly aspects of it have begun to make themselves known.

What Garrido seeks to do in this book is to minimize the bad and maximize the good.  Quoting extensively from both Pope Benedict XVI’s and Pope Francis’ guidance on modern media, she demonstrates that, properly used, things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, as well as  a host of other platforms, can become tools, not only for sharing pictures and family news, but for promulgating “rules of engagement” that are Christian in both tone and message.

This does not mean that she advocates proselytizing — rather, she talks about something that, at one time, we referred to as common courtesy and a respectful exchange of ideas.  And what makes this book particularly useful is that she doesn’t just talk about what to do, she actually gives the reader strategies to do it.

Much like the Internet that began it all, Garrido takes an interactive approach to her subject.  The result is that the book is a cross between an examination of conscience and a retreat workshop, with eight different goals to work toward.  Some may be of more importance to different readers than others, but all of them take a discerning look at how we tend to conduct ourselves online.

No matter which parts of the book the reader ends up focusing on, the first chapter is a “must do” for everyone.  Much like a physical fitness regimen that begins by having an individual look honestly at his or her habits, Garrido asks the reader to do two things: first, she suggests drawing up a “mission statement” regarding social media use.  This step clarifies why the reader has chosen to use social media in the first place.  Is it to stay connected to family and friends?  To share ideas about a particular hobby, promote a business or share opinions about any number of topics?  Whatever it is, she provides space in the book to write the statement down.

Once that has been done, she then asks the reader to take an honest look at the things he or she has posted over a period of time.  “How does your observation of your own posts align with what you have named as your personal social media statement,” she asks.  “Are your efforts to reach out on social media allowing you to show up in the world the way you want to show up?”  Again, she provides the reader space to write a response.  (Yes, it truly is interactive.)  All this leads to the first of the eight Christian habits to cultivate: “I will engage social media with increasing intentionality, striving to communicate in ways that strengthen relationships and build up healthy, life-giving community.”

The remainder of the book expands on this, with more discernment and several pieces of information (and warnings) about what to observe online, and especially what to avoid.   She includes further references both in print and online if the reader chooses to follow up on a particular topic.  (For instance, in the chapter entitled “Know Your Sources,” she identifies several web sites that give the reader information about the veracity of news outlets, as well as identifying the biases or leanings each has.  It is a very interesting chart.)

“#Rules_of_Engagement” has appeared at exactly the right time; it is both a worthwhile and highly recommended read.

Author bio:

Ann M. Garrido is associate professor of homiletics at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri, where she previously directed the school’s Doctorate of Ministry in Preaching program. She has served as the Marten Faculty Fellow in Homiletics at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of seven books, including the award-winning “Redeeming Administration, Redeeming Conflict” and “Let’s Talk About Truth.” She travels nationally and internationally doing conflict education and mediation work.