Anger in America

“Anger is a public epidemic in America” according to Jean Kim, a psychiatrist for the Department of Health and Human Services and a teacher at George Washington University.  Dr. Kim believes anger is also addictive and that outrage “gives us an unhappy high we keep trying to replicate”. 1

Further referring to the Richmond Times Dispatch Editorial piece “The joy of outrage”, this quote was used to lead off the piece.

It was a time when “angry words were about the only kind anyone cared to use.” When people “seemed tired of the reasoning process.  Instead of trying to convert one’s opponents, it was simpler just to denounce them, no matter what unmeasured denunciation might lead to.”  Problems “were slipping beyond hope of easy solution – sectional enmities, economic antagonism, varying interpretations of the American dream, the tragic, unendurable race problem itself.”1

That sounds like our own time.  It is actually a quote from historian Bruce Catton’s civil war book “This Hallowed Ground” first published in 1956.  Some may say we are heading toward a similar violent split.  Civil unrest is occurring daily around the world.  Some are violent protests against high taxes and the failure of socialism in France.  Others the complete breakdown of civil order in Haiti where the frustrations of worsening poverty persist despite billions in aid from around the world.

Online magazine Quartz published a summarization of the findings of Tufts faculty members Jeffrey Berry and Sarah Sobieraj, in their book “The Outrage Industry”, complex issues are simplified to fit into a tweet or a headline and the messages make us feel good, even while they make us mad.  The simplification creates an illusion that problems are easier to solve than they are, indeed that all problems would be solved if only they (whoever they are) thought like us.1

Once activated, a recent Harvard study finds, “anger can color people’s perceptions, form their decisions, and guide their behavior while they remain angry” – here’s the good part – “regardless of whether the decisions at hand are related to the source of their anger.”1

Are we not tiring of anger?  It is exhausting and brings virtually nothing to the table.  It likely interferes with our ability to deal with these complex, thorny problems logically and effectively.  Given the voracity of the angry outbursts we see and hear each day, whether on Facebook, in a tweet or on the “news”, it takes self-awareness and restraint to set aside anger.  To recognize it for what it is; a mostly profitless emotional reaction to disturbing information.  We can do better……

1Richmond Times Dispatch Editorial titled “Anger Management – The Joy of Outrage” February 18, 2019

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