There’s a lot of righteous anger going around these days. Too much arguing and not enough discourse. Too much shouting and not enough listening. To much closed, and not enough open. Too much personal branding, and not enough personal responsibility. Too much digging in of heels against, and not enough dancing on your toes with. Let’s face it: everyone’s always had a quiet opinion, but now everyone also has a digital megaphone.
But the righteousness of the anger is what’s interesting, because if you look closely enough, it’s often defensive. You see, if I’m righteous, then I feel I’m right — about whatever issue it is that’s bothering me enough to be righteous about. And if you disagree with my righteous anger, you’re disagreeing with my ‘rightness’. Which means you’re not only not only disagreeing with my take on the issue at hand, but also saying I’m wrong. So I increase my volume, because the alternative is to step back, take a moment and take a deeper look at my own beliefs.
And that’s scary. It’s warmer and safer wrapped up in the cocoon of righteousness so, when questioned, it seems it’s often easier to double down on the righteousness by countering with the ‘you’re infringing on my rights’ argument. Which fast moves to other quasi-social concerns that often are convenient extrapolations of real and serious issues which have become dangerously mutated, and used for the wrong purposes, yet remain safely unassailable behind the wall of perceived political correctness.
But maybe self examination is just what we need right now, because I think a lot of this self righteousness arises from the fact that we’ve all been adrift in a maelstrom of social, technical and political change for quite some time. Maybe 9/11, coupled with the breathless pace of technological change to a digital era left us all feeling a bit exposed and unsure. Maybe the dissolution of the family due to financial necessity has eroded our sense of stability. Maybe these are the reasons why many Baby Boomers believe everything used to be simpler and better. And many Millennials feel overwhelmed by the sheer scope and complexity of choice without, I’ll argue, a core foundational structure to return to, so they feel not free as much as untethered.
Perhaps this is why we seem always on the lookout for things that do not jibe perfectly with our own worldview, and then magnify them. We scream and shout and troll and belittle and swear that our anger is righteous and feel strong in that fleeting moment of our response. But a small voice inside whispers we are not. That our screaming is bluster and, if questioned, our grasp of the issues shallow at best.
So why do we do it? To connect? Maybe. Maybe that’s the only way we seem to know how anymore. It’s easier to flare up quick and get the cocaine pellet of at least some kind — hell, ANY kind — of response. To feel something, even if it’s indignation. To find evidence that we matter in some small way.
We are fast becoming entrenched in a unceasingly shifting and frivolous world where Love is a Subaru, politics is war, being less than thin a statement of empowerment and personal choice and if you’re not connected you are thus disconnected from everything important. And if you do not agree then you disagree, and become the enemy.
And we’re scared. All of us, on some level, know this just ain’t right. Which is why the Self Help industry is killing it, and Medium is rife with people telling you how to be you. Plus we’re damaged – all of us, except now it’s someone else’s fault forever – so the choice of instant anger can be a steam valve that let’s off a bit of pressure which may well come from some other, likely unrelated, inner conflict.
Our defense mechanism is to remain in perpetual motion. Our survival mechanism is to seek out the comfort of a tribe we’ve never actually met, wear our opinions like armor, and defend them to the death. To keep everything – even ourselves – out.
It is a terrible trajectory, isn’t it?
How Do We Move Forward?
The way out of our current angst, I think, is to return to a more vulnerable state. And while I know that sounds counter intuitive, I have a belief that we are sacrificing much of our deeply complex and wonderful humanity to a culture of materialism, perceived safety in remaining continually busy (and often sleep deprived), and socially satisfied only as the most perfectly curated and vacuous personas.
We need to return that that which makes us human. Not to be flawed, or needy, or fat or thin or white or black or gay or straight or Republican or Democrat or empowered or dis-empowered, but to simply to BE. To be without a label, or an instant position. To be open and flexible and to breathe. To be still, because still is okay, even if it’s scary because you can sometimes hear the sounds inside. To understand that there are and always will be differences and unfairness and victories and defeats and to be okay with that. And to deeply understand that Change does not occasionally happen in the midst of an otherwise static Life but, instead, that Life is Change. That is where Evolution comes from, and how we get better.
And if we can truly embrace that sort of a viewpoint we will find a deep well of calm, of serenity, within. Of strength and confidence grounded in our own comfortable understanding of ourselves.
And when we get there, we will no longer need to react defensively to the world around us. We will no longer default to righteous anger, but instead embrace differences as an opportunity for discourse. For learning. For evolving as civilized and flawed and awesome unlimited human creatures.
We get there by simply being what we are. Relentlessly Human.