Disarming the Army of Outrage

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For January 23 weekender, 2016

 Disarming the Army of Outrage

David W. Hegg

If America were a pot of water we would say we’re steaming, if not already beginning to boil. Anger is everywhere, and – at times – it may be justified. Yet, if we’re brutally honest, and if we are playing with open eyes and an open, unbiased mind, we’ll have to agree that anger and outrage have become an epidemic in our day. Where America used to be the “land of the free”, meaning we were free from tyranny, we have now become an army of outrage who define “freedom” as the right to be offended, angry, insulted, caustic, mean-spirited, and downright ugly in our attacks on others. It’s not pretty, and it sure isn’t profitable.

At the risk of offending some, let’s take a look at a verse from the writings of the Apostle James. Whether you like the Bible or not, you will find great wisdom in what he taught. His advice for his readers was simple: Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. And before you jump to the “comments” section to blast me for inserting God into the conversation, be brave enough to hear me out. If we are to lead the world, and still be a pluralistic nation, his advice is not only good but essential

Be quick to hear: We must place a premium on hearing, and by that I mean listening to all the relevant facts before coming to a conclusion. And even when we thing we know what someone said and what they meant, there is always the chance we haven’t gotten it right. So, before you opt for outrage, listen again. And, if possible, seek clarity and confirmation. In personal relationships I find it helpful to use three words before blasting someone for something I think they said or meant: help me understand. There have been many times when hearing “the rest of the story” has saved me a truckload of embarrassment.

Be slow to speak: I was in a gift shop in Rhode Island last year and came across a coaster set emblazoned with pithy sayings meant to bring a smile. My favorite was “I love the sound you make when you stop talking!” Wouldn’t it be great if all those of you who just love the sound of your own voices (or the cleverness of your facebook posts, tweets, and emails) would take some time to think before you speak and write? Not only have we become an army of outrage, but we’ve packaged our discontent in rash outbursts devoid of thoughtful insight, careful assertions, or verifiable fact. We’re most often aiming at invective rather than instruction, at caustic jabs rather than clarifying correction. I believe 99% of the time we’d be much better off to say nothing, rather than insert our inane darts into the public conversation. And, if you just can’t help yourself, find a local paper and become an opinion columnist!

Be slow to anger: Maybe James should have put this one first. Yet, if we think about it, the only way to postpone anger for many of us is to listen carefully while restricting the first ugly impulses of our tongues. The whole idea here to craft a strategy by which, if a response is needed, it isn’t fueled by outrage, but arises out of careful analysis, attention to truth, and a heart to help rather than castigate.

And why do I propose such a strategy? Simply because I have never seen anger and outrage and their fruits solve a problem. This is especially true when the problems arisen over time and are incredibly complex. Answers begin with correctly understanding the problems, challenges, and most importantly, the necessity of cooperation among the many.

I don’t want to live in a surly nation where we actively seek out reasons for outrage. To do so expends our most precious natural resource – our will to make America great – in the worthless activity of personal aggrandizement. What’s more, outrage expressed seldom, if ever, actually scratches our itch. It doesn’t solve anything, and still eaves the residue of regret if we’ve any conscience left.

The next time you feel your outrage meter rising, consider this. What do you lose if you don’t lose your cool? What harm will you feel if you listen a little longer, speak a little less, and save your outrage for something truly outrageous? And if more of our take this path, perhaps our army of outrage will transform into a generation of those who let their lives and accomplishments do the talking.