Outrage is sexy. It sells newspapers and attracts online clicks. If you want to raise a ruckus, get outraged, because people go gaga over people going gaga.
Of course, that’s all the value one can get from outrage. Although entertaining to watch and speculate over and gossip about, outrage very, very seldom changes anything, and can even make a bad situation worse by injecting anger into the mix.
On a personal level, outrage makes us feel superior. By becoming indignant, we’re drawing a line in the sand and declaring ourselves to be on the right side of a given issue. We’re saying, “How horrible this situation is, and how capable I am of declaring right and wrong, and passing judgment on those involved!”
Whether we actually happen to be right or wrong is irrelevant, because the sense of injustice we revel in is actually a self-esteem boost, gained by climbing atop rabble and rubble. It makes us feel taller to indignantly puff ourselves up with outrage.
The share-rate of rage-inducing news can be attributed to the flood of ‘hurts so good’ chemicals that accompany righteous anger. Getting hooked on this feeling is all too common, and causes us to seek it out. The need to be angry or upset in order to feel good is a sad state of affairs. Look around: there’s no shortage of business models predicated on saturating people with these chemicals, keeping them hooked on an anger-induced high.
To avoid this type of addiction, it’s best to avoid delving into scandals and fabricated, bias-heavy news items and storylines. Instead, decide where and how you can actually make a difference.
This move is guaranteed to pour water over the rage-high we might otherwise get hooked on, because it requires us to think rationally — not emotionally — and requires us to determine which problems we will participate in solving and which are just fun to get upset about.
If you want to be involved in something scandalous, do something other than sitting around and seething, while spreading the same venom to others.
Anger without action leaves us feeling as though we’ve accomplished something when we haven’t. This results in fewer solutions, not more, because the desire to solve the problem is washed away by the feeling of satisfaction we get from being incensed. Resentment without an effort to rectify accomplishes exactly nothing, and makes us part of the problem we’re so angry about.
In short: if you’re not willing to lift a finger to solve a problem, you’ve lost the right to complain about it. By complaining more selectively, we’ll spend more time solving problems and sharing solutions, and less time perpetuating outrage-addiction.
This post is an excerpt from my book, Considerations.
Update: April 20, 2017
Recognizing this about social media and certain facets of the larger media industry really freed me up to focus on more of the important stuff. Stifling the outrage reflex keeps the stress levels low and grants a sense of calm that is often hard to achieve while riled up 24/7.