You can’t consume any media now without facing an onslaught of outrage. Short, punchy headlines are designed to elicit emotion and disapproval at the same time they encourage commenting and sharing. It leaves us feeling both righteous and soiled as we pounce upon the latest to be publicly shamed.
Outrage is all around us and, as a result of its ubiquity, we may be unaware of its unintended side effects.
Promotes the Creation and Curation of a False Identity
It’s tempting to believe that an internet witch-hunt can only happen to “bad” people. But much like the namesake condemnation in Salem, anything and anyone can become fodder for the masses. It’s a culture where we’re encouraged to be “real,” but only if real has mass-market appeal and refrains from anything too challenging or deep.
As a result, especially for those in the public eye, there is a growing temptation to put forth a scrubbed and sanitized facade. To avoid possible rebuke by pretending to be without fault. Because when perfection is expected but not attainable, the only alternative remaining is to fake it.
And this hurts more than just the one behind the mask. It means that we all are seeking something false, an Instagrammed staged and filtered existence with no misspoken words and no thoughtless actions. A false front means that we don’t really get to know the people that we select to lead us nor the celebrities that we attempt to emulate.
Encourages People to Cover Up Their Mistakes
Knowledge comes from listening, yet wisdom only comes from living. And living inevitably means making mistakes. The best people own up to their errors, learn from them and then take it a step further and use that knowledge to help others.
So what happens when mistakes are not acceptable?
It’s not good.
It takes courage to admit to making a mistake in the best of circumstances. And when you face complete and utter annihilation from both acquaintances and strangers? It becomes close to impossible.
Outrage culture doesn’t leave much space for learning from mistakes. It often confuses the poor action with the person and tags them both for the garbage pile without any chance for a conversation.
As a result, missteps are seen as inherently shameful, something to hide. And as I learned from watching my ex husband, as soon as you begin to hide away the more dishonorable parts of yourself, you inevitably help them grow in the dark.
Provides a False Sense of Action
When you point out somebody’s wrongdoing, it can feel purposeful. Good, even. It provides a sense of doing something, taking action.
But what are you actually changing?
Not much, I’m afraid.
Real change is much harder. Way messier. Takes quite a bit more time and effort. And often requires listening on both sides.
Outrage keeps us distracted on a treadmill going nowhere. We stand in accidental unity, thrown together by the latest scandal, and busy our fingers calling out the bad person de jour.
When maybe what we need is to slow down and take the time to consider the story behind the meme and the issue behind the soundbite. Because then, and only then, we will have enough information to take steps towards meaningful action.
Focuses on the Punishment, Not the Solution
Outrage culture encourages punishment, swift and total. Victory is declared when the offending person is not only silenced, but hamstrung from ever stepping out again.
And then, as surely as a game of Whack-a-Mole, another one rises to take their place. Because as anyone with a wily puppy knows, punishment is only a temporary deterrent.
That’s not to say that consequences should be avoided. After all, you can ground your teenager at the same time you put forth the effort to understand and address the larger issues that contributed to their misbehavior. It simply means that punishment is not the solution in itself.
Outrage can be an important emotion. It highlights behaviors that go against the agreed-upon norms for society and it spreads voraciously so that others can join the cause. Yet outrage is best kept as the ignition, not the fuel for the long haul.