Archive for September, 2014|Monthly archive page

The Limits of Outrage

In PeaceAble on September 9, 2014 at 11:45 am

If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

These days everyone is outraged. But It seems more and more as though all that outrage is driving us farther and farther apart and further and further from solutions. Outrage is becoming the default setting for our responses to even minor disagreements. In light of that observation, I propose some things we need to keep in mind when we are feeling outraged.

1. Rage and outrage aren’t the same.
The origin of the word is in a Latin word meaning “to go beyond.” While modern usages contain elements of anger in their meanings, anger and rage aren’t the same, either. When we are outraged, we need to go beyond simple concern or interest or recognition of the problem. We need to see the problem as significant enough to make us angry, perhaps; but more importantly, to move us to action. Rage is intense anger; it suggests a violence of emotion that outrage doesn’t require. Outrage should move us to speak out about the things we see, to work for understanding of the problems, to engage others in seeking solutions. Rage blinds us to solutions, leading us to strike out, to seek amelioration of our rage rather than solutions to the problem.
2. Outrage can make us vulnerable to the appeals of those on the extremes, who will use our outrage to manipulate us.
We need to be wary of those who seek to tell us what we should be outraged about. If you aren’t outraged about something now, it may be not because you aren’t paying attention, but because you don’t need to be. We will not all be outraged by the same things because we are not all going to see problems and issues the same way. Your outrage about something is a sign of your perceptions and your need, not a sign of someone else’s ignorance or weakness or lack of moral fiber. If you believe others should be outraged, seek to convince them, but remember that it should not be your outrage that will persuade, not your convictions; but the strength of the argument you can bring to it.
3. Outrage can become an end in itself; we can begin to believe that our outrage is enough.
Do you know someone who seems to have an outraged opinion about everything? He will unleash a torrent of loud, obnoxious, often obscene, and abusive rhetoric against all the perceived ills of the world; but he doesn’t vote, doesn’t give to charities or advocacy groups, has never been to a rally or demonstration, has never written a letter to the editor, has never called a congressional representative, has never been to a public discussion of solutions to the problem; has never, in other words, actually done something positive and useful with his outrage. Be outraged by whatever you find outrageous, but if you can’t answer the questions “what are you doing about it,” or so what,” then you need to consider whether your outrage is really about the problem, or just about you.
4. Outrage, especially generalized, unfocused outrage can keep us from thinking clearly enough to find real solutions to specific problems.
What outrages you? I am outraged by inequity and prejudice of all kinds — racial, economic, sexual, ethnic, and religious, to name the common ones – and by the increasingly violent divisiveness that characterizes public discourse. But what can I actually do? I cannot, on my own, find solutions to them; cannot rid the world of all that I find wrong with it. I can, however, discover where my own strengths lie and find specific things I can do. I can write about the issues and my ideas about them. I can contribute to and join groups that have the resources to find and implement solutions. I can speak out about local issues that are part of the larger problems. But most of all, I can learn more about the issues so that I can understand what outrages me. I can try to focus on the problems rather than my own outrage.

5. If you’re not committed to finding solutions, you’re not paying attention.
All of the issues with outrage I have talked about in this essay are really about ego. We pay attention, of course, to those things which are important to us. Things become important to us when we can clearly see that they affect us, especially when they affect us negatively. This is natural and normal. But if that is as far as our thinking, and our outrage take us, then we are missing the interconnectedness of things; we are missing the larger picture. If you find yourself putting more of your energy into being outraged than you are putting into positive action, then it is time to re-focus. Choose something accessible to you, look for a specific problem that addresses some aspect of your outrage and do something about it. We aren’t all going to be major activists, trying to change the world; but we can do one or two things that help to bring about change. And we can support those who are doing more.

6. It’s all right if others are outraged by different things than you are.
One of the best places to look for solutions to the things that outrage you is to look at the reasoning of those who are outraged by the other side of the issue. Nothing positive is accomplished by passing judgment about what outrages others. The search for meaningful and lasting solutions requires that we work together. As long as the other is acting in responsible, reasonable ways, then use their outrage to inform your own, and to help guide you both toward useful dialogue about solutions. This is extremely difficult right now. We are surrounded by hyperbole and willful distortion of the issues for maximum effect rather than genuine dialogue. People are afraid, and our fear is being used against us, to manipulate and control us. We need to fight that fear and find the courage to see ourselves in the other. Other people’s outrage is as important and as valid as our own. Everyone’s outrage represents a problem in need of a solution. Honor your own and others’ outrage. Pay attention.

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