To Be Outraged or Not to Be Outraged — that is the question
That word — outrage — used to have some oomph to it. It meant a reaction to something despicable or shocking or extreme. But things despicable and shocking and extreme are becoming the norm and we more and more live with a constant sense of outrage within us. Its meaning is tamped down, normalized, weaker.
This stronger version of outrage permeates our environment, fed by the slant of the news media toward the sensational, by our conversations with each other, by social media, by letters to the editor, by the movie industry, by marches and protests. Outrage attracts followers and followers attract advertisers and advertisers create wealth for those in power. And it continues to grow. I’ll continue to call it outrage.
As a case in point, what is more outrageous than two world leaders with bloated egos taunting each other about who will be first to deploy a nuclear weapon and whose fiery holocaust will be more destructive to the other.
We all know that there is no light without darkness, no expansion without attraction, no disease without health and so on. A simple example is the light bulb. A positive and a negative terminal are joined together by a resistor. When electricity is applied to the terminals, the resistor heats up and glows, creating artificial light. The radiance of the bulb is neither negative nor positive, but the result of a blending, so to speak, of two opposite qualities in order to create something new. And so it is throughout nature.
If outrage is the negative pole, what is the positive? How is it created? By whom, when, where?
Social media has become a hotbed of outrage. A post goes up describing the latest hard-to-believe incident, readers like and comment and share it with friends who do the same, and with incredible speed and enormous breadth the internet transmits it over and over again so that more outrage can be disseminated.
The president tweets his unique kind of outrage, and true to Newton’s third law of motion, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Protests, disbelief, cries of “Resist!” The news media broadcasts it, memes go viral, late night comedians are in their glory.
Fake news on a large scale has entered the arena, spawning internet sites that will print anything for a price. So the outrage twists and contorts itself into an amorphous and pointless global chatter, all the while inflating and feeding on itself. And, inevitably, it takes up residence inside us, becoming more robust, and seeking an outlet.
We take it on. But what to do with it? One reason that we are so offended is that alongside the outrage, we hold an innate connection with the rest of humanity. We are astounded at the misery around us and weep for those who suffer. The fact that man inflicts these things on man is especially egregious. And the realization dawns that each of us has our part in inflicting the suffering, be it by commission or omission.
What do we want to make in this world? Certainly not more of what it is now. Would you agree? Being against something is a setup that puts us in opposition to another force. The stronger the force we are pushing against, the harder we have to push, growing the opponent into a Goliath. What if we were to adopt a stance of being against nothing, but for something?
A way to think about this is to picture two straight lines, parallel to each other, of equal weight and density. The left line is called outrage. The right is its opposite, but nameless until we decide if we wish to consider it and what it represents. If we embrace the left line and travel on it, its trajectory begins to veer to the left, no longer parallel to the right, and creates a space that gets larger as the line extends. (Think of two roads, one continuing due north and the other heading northwest.) In that space is built more outrage, more separation, more endless and flaccid cyber-chatter. We are building our case “against,” and abetting the disconnection among us.
Knowing what we are against, however, is necessary because it clarifies what we are for. When we broaden our perception to include the right line — that thing that we are for — our inner attitude begins to shift. We are still against violence, for example, but we stop feeding it. When we turn our attention to the idea of gentleness, say, we coax the left line back into alignment with the right and hold both thoughts at the same time. We don’t travel on either line but birth something new — the middle line — and through our choices and actions walk that path. Its name is cooperation or collaboration or connection or that point in our hearts that carries love for each other.
Major changes happen over time and only with strong intention to make the shift. The first step perhaps is restricting ourselves, so to speak, from voicing that we are against something. For example, on social media, no “likes” for political caricatures, no comments agreeing with negative opinions, no sharing of deleterious posts. We may still agree with the comments and laugh at the cartoons, but remember, we are no longer feeding the beast of outrage, but striving to narrow the gap. Our decision to ignore already introduces an element of gentleness into the external arena.
The internal arena, however, is the crux of the work, where the balancing occurs. It is inside ourselves that we create the light that joins both sides — the tungsten between the poles in the light bulb. And the point of doing this? Because we are part of the system of nature and this is how nature works. It’s like walking. Left step, then right step, propelling us forward.
We exist within the predictability, power, reliability and utter magnificence of nature. We see, hear, touch, taste and smell her. We are made up of her elements. Our bodies reflect her workings — individual organs, operating together in harmony, sustaining each other, giving life to this beastly part of us.
Nature exists by laws, both external and internal. Gravity, radio waves, electricity simply happen, like heartbeat, breathing, digestion. Other subtler but just as powerful laws create the template for human relationships. They are inter-dependence, altruism, balance and harmony, interconnection. Mankind, however, came into being endowed with ego and under its influence we relentlessly seek fulfillment of our own desires. Ego convinces us that it is permissible to harm or exploit others in order to get what we want. Ego seduces us into following the left line, separating ourselves from each other more and more.
Mother Nature, it turns out, is noticing. She is exerting her terrifying power to re-establish balance. And it is she who will overcome.
But what if we were to beat her to it.
What we’re beginning to awaken to is that we want something higher in our discourse. We want a purpose higher than beating the drums of war to prove we are superior to others. We want thought-out and higher actions than chest-pounding and roaring like jungle animals. But these things do not come without first creating for ourselves an inner landscape of gentleness/peace out of which we live. Will those who presume to govern us come to this place? No. But we the people can, and there are many more of us than there are of them. One by one we can decide to quit the outrage game and create a new direction.
The Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, published their findings in 2011 on a remarkable discovery. The institute’s director Boleslaw Szymanski said this regarding when a minority belief becomes one of the majority: “When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority. Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”
So there you have it. If you’ve read this far and are thinking that imagining lines, and merging them, and walking in light is a bogus and a bit “woo-woo” solution, reconsider. Whatever goes on inside us projects itself into the world and every projection creates a ripple. If enough of us decide to nurture and project that softer right line that we all possess, the ripples can reach that magical tipping point. If a few, then many, then 10% of those who use the internet would be burned by the fire of this idea, Mother Nature could relax. We would ourselves bring back equilibrium.