Do You Want to be Formed or Informed or Both?

Do You Want to be Formed or Informed or Both?

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Do formation and information mean the same thing? Doesn’t formation suggest shaping and fashioning something to a point where it acquires some kind of appearance differentiating it? And doesn’t information refer to the mind, in its capacity to understand or learn about something? If such be the case, it would seem that formation has to do with appearance, while information is more of an internal procedure centering around data.

Would it be accurate to say that an artist is engaged in formation while a newscaster is concerned with information? If so, it would seem that, in our U.S. society, information is more to the fore as a center of concern for most of us than formation is. Formation can involve considerable effort and work, consuming a large amount of time, whereas information, or at least much of it, can often flow readily off the tongue, though admittedly some informants devote time and effort to study and inform themselves, before they attempt to convey their efforts to others.

Which is more important? That is a difficult question to answer, and probably elicits different answers from a spectrum of persons, in terms of how they are inclined. In U.S. society, where communication media have come to dominate the time and interest of most of us, we likely would tend to regard information as more important than formation. So much of our interacting with one another involves sharing information about ourselves or events around us.

However, we can’t overlook the time and effort that families, especially parents, give to the task of formation of their children. True enough, here is where formation and information come together, since parents form their children by information about how to do this, that or the other thing. School, too, provides a mixture of these two, at least when practiced by a good teacher. Even the military, in its early induction stage, engages in both formation of and information for recruits.

We would be hard put to answer the question whether we personally would prefer to be formed, or informed, or, put another way, whether we regard formation as of more interest and concern to ourselves than information. A good example of how formation centers our lives is in terms of our habits or modes of behavior. These soon become apparent to others. We may tend to walk quickly, or slowly. Or we may talk easily and frequently, or we may speak hesitantly and infrequently. We may prefer to be by ourselves most of the time, or we may like the company of others.

If information is of great interest to others, they may constantly be found near a source of news, be it radio, computer, TV or newspaper. On the other hand, we know of those habitually avoiding the media, preferring not to be disturbed by a barrage of information.

How do we look at our religious faith? Is it a matter of information for us, or of formation? Or both? In looking back at my schooling in Catholic or other religious institutions, do I recall it in terms of all the data and pieces of information I picked up about my Catholic/religious heritage, or do I remember it for the influence it had on values I cherish even today, years later, for instance, on the outlook I now have on life, its tragedies, its moments of joy? Is the bible like a history book for me, chock-full of fascinating incidents in the exploits of ancient peoples, or is it spiritual reading for me, where I prefer to stop and mull over thoughts that spring out of the text at me? Am I influenced, maybe even changed, by what I read? The same with preaching? Do I go to hear the speaker in the podium convey to me tidbits of interesting information that I had not heard before, or do I look for some inspirational remark that will help me at a difficult time in my life?

Formation/information. Likely we need them both, and would fare poorly without either one of them. But in the scales that we will encounter at our death, should one be labeled formation, and the other information, which scale, measuring my life accomplishments, will at that point in my existence matter more?

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One thought on “Do You Want to be Formed or Informed or Both?

  1. Another stimulating and thought provoking article Fr Sebastian. Thank you. Your summaries on how formation/information fare in our families and schools were right on.

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