Outrage Generation: Just Say No

Have you been prodded to outrage recently? Has a FB friend posted something that raises your blood pressure and intensifies your dislike for some person, group, or political viewpoint?

I wouldn’t be surprised. There’s a whole industry devoted to generating outrage, division, anger and contempt, and I am sick of it.

dictionary.com defines the noun “outrage” as “(1) an act of wanton cruelty or violence; any gross violation of law or decency; (2) anything that strongly offends, insults, or affronts the feelings, or (3) a powerful feeling of resentment or anger aroused by something perceived as an injury, insult, or injustice.” The definition got me to thinking about what I really think is an outrage and what I think isn’t.

At the top of my personal outrage list is intentionally or recklessly hurting or killing a child, followed really closely by intentionally or recklessly hurting or killing an animal, followed by intentionally hurting or killing another human being. Everything else runs a distant second.

There’s a big difference between the actions topping my list, which often have irremediable consequences, and much of what we’re asked to be outraged by these days. There’s also a big, big difference between much of what we’re goaded to view as an outrage and what is actually the truth.

For example, should we be outraged when we hear that a condo building in downtown Austin made one of its unit owners remove an American flag that was draped over the balcony railing on the Fourth of July? How unpatriotic! How politically correct! Our blood pressure rises; we’re sure some [insert appropriate insult here] is behind this outrage.

If we stop and investigate, however, we find that condo rules prohibit anything being draped over a balcony railing, because if something should fall, it would endanger pedestrians or drivers passing below. Not discriminating against the flag at all, not political correctness gone wild. Just a sensible safety measure.

Watching Facebook this election cycle, I’ve seen a lot of postings by what I call outrage generators, spotlighting actions alleged to have taken by someone we disagree with, presented in a way guaranteed to cause outrage. I’ve taken to doing my own fact-checking and, time after time, have discovered that either the “outrage” didn’t happen at all [Hillary Clinton really wasn’t fired from her position as a junior lawyer for the Senate Watergate Committee, for example] or the incident is much less upsetting once all the facts are known.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep a close eye on politicians and on government, nor am I saying that a misuse of government power shouldn’t be caught and corrected. The Founding Fathers went to great lengths to ensure that government power was checked and balanced; we should follow their example, exercising a healthy skepticism about what any politician says and what any part or level of government may be doing. We should be prepared to work the problems we encounter, to fix whatever isn’t working.

But we shouldn’t jump automatically to DEFCON 1 when something crosses our FB feed that seems calculated to generate outrage. Instead, we should check it out. We should ask, is this true? How do I know? Are there additional facts that would explain the context? Is it being fixed? What is the other side of the story? And, most importantly, who is it that wants me to be outraged and what are they getting out of it?

There’s a whole outrage-generating industry operating today, online and off. Its purpose is to make us click on websites, to make us donate or spend money, to make us angry, and, sadly, to divide America into suspicious, upset groups that hate and fear one another. None of that is good for anyone but the outrage generators themselves.

Being outraged on a regular basis is bad for our health and bad for our country. Physically, constant outrage raises blood pressure, increases heart rate, and dumps a bucket of adrenalin into the system, none of which is a good thing. Politically constant outrage engenders feelings of helplessness, hate, and fear that can undermine our government’s legitimacy and turn us into warring tribes.

Please, for your own health, as well as the country’s, apply your own checks and balances, resist the daily calls to outrage, don’t accept anything without checking out all the facts, and listening to both sides. Reserve outrage for irremediable actions that really are outrageous and regard everything else as a problem that can be worked, an issue that can be resolved, a wrong that can be righted. Your health and your country deserve no less.

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