That's outrageous!

Be it in politics, religion, media, or food, if you follow the news, you'll find someone saying that this or that is outrageous. In fact, some people seem to live in a perpetual state of outrage.
Some are outraged that their cities are not green, like Copenhagen

What is outrage, that we so readily feel it?

Merriam-Webster's first definition of outrage is "an act of violence or brutality." Most reasonable people avoid acts of violence or brutality as they express their outrage, so let's move on to the second meaning.

And here it is: " act that violates accepted standards of behavior or taste." This is a milder version of outrage, wherein the outrage is as mild as an insult or act of bad taste. But I don't think this is what most people have in mind when they use the word.

So on to the third meaning: "anger or resentment aroused by injury or insult." Here, I believe, is the meaning most people express: their personal anger or resentment, caused by what they perceive as something hurtful.

Taking it personally

Why do so many diverse actions, words, and ideas spur people into feeling outraged? If you ask an outraged person this question, you may get this response: "Because it's so unfair/cruel/shortsighted/undemocratic/tyrannical/sexist/racist/elitist" and so on. 

And just by asking this question, which may be interpreted as casting doubt on the outrageousness of said action, you find yourself thrown into the category of outrageousness!

In other words, it's outrageous to ask an outraged person why something is outrageous!

Why would anyone get so upset as to reject an attempt to understand the reason behind his or her outrage? Because we take outrage personally.

What outrages us?

What is outrageous is that which threatens our sense of self, our family, and/or our most cherished beliefs. The action, words or ideas that outrage people are those that directly butt up against and try to overturn the psychological, intellectual, and spiritual underpinnings of personhood.

This kind of outrage arises from one of the more charming aspects of being human. We form our view of how the world works when we are so young that we can't be critical--we literally don't know any better. We take it as a matter of faith that the views of the people around us are the right, good, and normal views. 

That kind of unquestioning belief is something that we lose as we get older, meet people with widely divergent views, and disrupt our tight little circle of trust. How we react when faced with differences is also influenced by our early environment. Some of us take it in our stride; others get outraged.

Outrage in a child can be cute, but in an older person can be scary. Outrage is not so frightening when the outraged person has little power (the child) but can be absolutely terrifying when the person has access to weapons (a terrorist).

Who is allowed to be outraged?

Well, I am! And maybe you are, if I like you.

But those others (the ones I don't like) who are outraged are infantile, ignorant, narrow-minded, and just plain wrong.

Why is outrage so fashionable?

For better or worse, we live in an era when the individual is often more important than the group. We encourage people to express themselves, speak their mind, have an opinion, react, and respond to anything and everything. Emotional and mental health is equated with the ability to express personal feelings, to vent--to let it all out.

In a crowded room where everyone's speaking at once, how do you get attention? Shout, scream, exaggerate--whatever it takes to stand out. Be outrageous--and if you can't manage that, be outraged. our current outrage epidemic a good thing?
Maybe. Hearing everyone's voice is one way to come to agreement or change what's not working. Outrage is a powerful emotion that can help people pinpoint what bothers them most.

But maybe it can be modulated (voices lowered) or taken in turns, like a group therapy session. It takes maturity and insight to sort through someone's outrage and find the kernel of pain, or truth, or originality, that we hope to find when we talk things over. Permanent outrage is like the boy who cried "wolf!' when there was no wolf--it's a misuse of a means to rally people around a threat. Think of outrage as a valuable commodity, to be used in times of true danger; if you usually speak in measured tones, your outrage will be effective when you use it.


Popular Posts