}

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Being frugal with outrage


Nearly two years ago, I shared videos, John and Hank Green, talking about, basically, good news. The video above from John Green, is a different look at that idea.

John begins by talking about the changes in crime rates in the United States over the last 25 years, and that leads into a wider discussion of outrage, and how life is getting better in many respects, even as we say we feel that it’s getting worse. He also points out, rightly, that some things may be too complex to generate outrage.

All of which makes me wonder: What’s wrong with us?

There have been times I’ve joked that “my outrage meter is broken”, meaning my capacity to be outraged by something in the news is gone. Over time, despite the occasional lapse, this has remained true, but it’s a battle to avoid that becoming pessimism.

“Pessimism,” I said in another post almost a year ago, “makes us give up, withdraw, opt out and tune out at a time the world needs us to engage.” That’s always a dangerous possibility—that we become so overwhelmed by the negative, by things that outrage us, that we think maybe everything really IS crap, so why bother caring anymore?

Even so, there’s a difference between being pessimistic and refusing to be manipulated into outrage. Political ideologues of all descriptions, corporations, religions, elected politicians and wannabes, and even the news media all have reason to stoke the fires of outrage, and all will resort to emotional manipulation to achieve that.

I’m not perfect, and I can be manipulated into outrage, too, but here’s what I do that’s helped: I start by assuming that the latest Internet meme is a lie, or, at the very least, an exaggeration or mischaracterisation of the facts. If my outrage is rising, I fact-check what I’m being served. If the facts stack up, I may respond, but by then my outrage has diminished.

What I’m definitely NOT good at is trying to focus the attention of others onto the things they DON’T hear about, but that they ought to be concerned about (but not outraged—that's something that I think is best kept for things that truly and literally are outrageous, not merely things that annoy or even anger us).

All of us are only human, doing the best we can with the limited time and information we have available. Sometimes we screw up—becoming outraged over something insignificant, or after being manipulated into it based on false information. We also don’t pay enough attention to the things the news media and politicians don’t want to talk about. Maybe our best isn’t good enough.

However, outrage is often overplayed, exhausting us mentally and emotionally and leading us to become pessimistic. One thing we need to do, I think, is simply be a little more frugal with our outrage, saving it for the things that truly deserve it.

The world still needs us to engage. We all need to learn to do so wisely and effectively.

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