#121: Outrage Is Not a Successful Communication Strategy

Everyone is outraged these days and lets everyone know. Something is always offending somebody. I understand that. There are a lot of things I find difficult to tolerate, sometimes impossibly so. Yet how do we communicate such difficulties? How should we feel about that?

Outrage is an uncontrolled emotion. You feel so frustrated by something that you rage against the world that is still allowing this to happen. It is an understandable feeling, but if it is not controlled, how effective will you be at turning your frustration into action?

Being outraged to such an extent that your inner voice wants to rage out against the world will only contribute to this rage infecting yourself. Such rage turned inward will not allow for inner peace. But only if we are at peace can we truly think – and in order to act, feeling is not enough: Thinking is necessary. Yet true thinking cannot happen if we let ourselves be overwhelmed by emotion. That does not mean we should ignore our feelings – we can’t – but we need to understand and sublimate them into something productive. After all, what is all the outrage about if we are not crying out for action?

Furthermore, letting our feelings control ourselves disallows ourselves from recognizing whether we might be overreacting. We should always criticize ourselves first – but if we get so attached to our emotional reaction to something, how can we conduct such self-critique? How do you criticize a feeling?

Only when we turn feeling into thinking, and self-centered emotion into complex thought, only then can we understand the true scope of the problem. Maybe we are not seeing the whole picture. Maybe we are not looking at all possible criticisms. But we need to do that – if we don’t prepare ourselves for a critique of our critique, how will we learn?

Shouldn’t we always assume that we, ourselves, can also be wrong? Should we not approach each problem with humility and love, rather than with self-righteousness and aggression? How can we change the world if we cannot act as the role model for a better world, a better way of being? If we prove unable to learn ourselves, to be the peace we want to seek, how could we possibly enter into dialogue with others, how could we possibly hope to communicate effectively?

Outrage typically meets counter-outrage: issues cancel each other out, one perspective is meet with the opposite counter-perspective, and nobody listens to each other anymore, everybody is screaming, everybody is calling the other side deviant, deplorable, reactionary, offensive, evil: how could such a communicative breakdown possibly be solving any problem?

Do we even want to solve a problem? Or do we want to keep feeding our emotions? Can we offer a realistic solution? Can we understand the other side? Can we understand that there are always more than two sides, and that other perspectives can be equally – or even partially – as valid as your own? If we can’t see that because of our outrage, our righteous anger, our utopian screaming, nothing will change except that we will contribute to a culture of anger, division and hatred. Is that really what we want?