It’s All the Rage: How Outrage Has Become a Virtue

This post is a bad idea—an invitation for indignation. Because I’m about to suggest we all act a little less controversial and, these days, suggesting less controversy has become the most controversial thing you can do…

anger

Photo Credit: Emily Raw via Compfight cc

Electronic communication is in its adolescence.

Blogging is about twenty years old (the word “blog” was first coined in 1999). For all intents and purposes, text messaging is about fifteen years old (texts could not be exchanged between phone networks until the turn of the century). And Facebook just reached the end of its first decade of public use (until 2006, Facebook was exclusively for college students).

Electronic communication is like a teenager.

And it’s doing what all teenagers do: it’s getting angry.

Online, we’re acting like right and wrong is obvious and what we believe is obviously right. Like uniformity is the only valid kind of community. Like someone else’s opinion is a direct threat to the validity of our own. Like it’s our job to be unwavering. Like talking back is the only way to talk. Like the only way to be yourself is to shout down all other selves.

To be enraged is all the rage.

To rant is to be righteous.

To be verbally violent is to be virtually virtuous.

We have become so comfortable with the everyday Facebook rant, we even expect it from our politicians and our pundits and our pulpits. In fact, we demand it.

I may not rant on Facebook, but I’ve been watching myself closely, and I have plenty of anger in me—dark stares and distraught sighs and dangerous sarcasm. Why? Because I’m ordinary. I’m human. We are, all of us, carrying within us an awful lot of anger, whether we realize it or not.

Anger isn’t new.

It’s been seething beneath the surface of our complicated humanity for millennia. Our anger wasn’t created by Facebook and Twitter and instant messaging and all our many forms of electronic communication. But they have given us just enough degrees of separation to feel comfortable unleashing it. And the problem is, once unleashed online, it gets hard to cage it again. Once typed out, it gets way easier to act it out. Then it becomes a habit. A way of life.

Fortunately, there is a way to grow out of our online adolescence.

It’s called uncertainty.

Last year, our family moved from the suburbs of Chicago to a small town in rural Illinois. One late night, shortly after the move, my son and I were standing in the middle of a dark road, looking up at a night sky he had never seen but through the veil of city lights, when he asked incredulously:

“Dad, where did all the stars come from?”

He was seeing things he didn’t know existed before. Entire suns and constellations of suns and galaxies and a whole universe sprawling out before him that was previously invisible to him.

We talked about how we were still only seeing a fraction of what was right in front of us.

I think that’s what growing up is really all about. It’s not about knowing every constellation by heart and immediately, unequivocally, and aggressively telling anyone with a different vision of the night sky they are wrong. Growing up is more like gradually moving out to the countryside, where you begin seeing stars you never knew existed before.

It’s about venturing out into the dark until you can see more light.

It’s about looking back at your journey and knowing only one thing for certain: that your previous certainty was based on a limited view of the world and, therefore, your current certainty is probably based on a limited view, as well.

It’s about staring up at a night sky and wondering, with wonder, “Where did all the stars come from?” until the only thing you know is you don’t know all things. Or maybe anything for certain.

When that kind of uncertainty gets paired with anger, then anger remains just that. It doesn’t rage. It doesn’t become violent. Rather, it becomes a mirror, reflecting back to us a little more of who we are. It becomes an “X,” marking the spot where our wounds and our fears are buried. It becomes a line in the sand, showing us where our boundaries are and giving us an opportunity to set them with affection instead of aggression. If we listen to our anger, rather than responding with it, it becomes a signpost, showing us which parts of this broken humanity matter to us most.

Then, we’re free to spend our days lifting this world up, instead of shouting it down.

At least, I think that’s why rage is all the rage right now. And I think that’s how we can begin to grow out of it. But I can’t be certain.

After all, I can’t see all the stars yet.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Next Post: For Valentine’s Day, Let’s All Admit We’re Married to a Stranger

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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Moraa

    By listening to my anger instead of responding with it….. Shows me the areas I feel I need support but not receiving it. Thank you Dr Flanagan.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Well done, Moraa. Thank you for your vulnerability. I often find some kind variation of loneliness underneath my anger, as well. I think most of us do, if we watch long enough.

  • Ginny

    “It’s about looking back at your journey and knowing only one thing for certain: that your previous certainty was based on a limited view of the world and, therefore, your current certainty is probably based on a limited view, as well.” Oh, how I am learning how true this statement is…I think I have things figured out and understand why people act the way they do, only to have new information come to me, and I have to reprocess things all over again. Life is complicated and people are complicated and I will never have it all figured out.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ginny, good for you for having the courage to let the new information affect you! It’s not easy to be plunged back into uncertainty over and over again.

  • RonP59

    Thanks for the invitation to join you in uncertainty…to learn to welcome anger and tune into it. I find when uncertainty exposes my insecurity it raises the question, “What, then, will I derive my security from if I can’t derive it from a mastery of mystery and uncertainty? What will provide me with enough security to free me to be left in awe by mystery vs threatened by it?

    • drkellyflanagan

      Wow, right on, Ron. I think that is the big question. What will I do with my fear if I can’t numb it with certainty? And what will finally push us over the edge into embracing mystery? Ironically, I don’t know; it’s a mystery to me. : )

      • RonP59

        Strangely enough, there’s something about meeting someone else on this journey, daring to admit this uncertainty that I find deeply freeing and invigorating. Like we just gave ourselves permission to slow down long enough to be human and care!

  • Grace

    On Thursday, 8-year-old Z and I walked out his anger on the gravel road, through wooded patches, for an hour and a half. He was that mad. At one point, he used his heavy stick to stir up the silt and mud at the depth of a seemingly clear puddle. It became a nasty, clouded mess. We waited. In just a few minutes, as we watched without poking or prodding, the layers settled, and the puddle became beautiful again. It became restored, with time and patience, just like Z and me. As you write, things unfold differently than one might choose to typically understand. Your words resonate with what I am learning in motherhood. Thank you! Love this. How good it is to learn how little we know and to know how much we get to learn about this precious complex universe.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ninety minutes. That is so important and so profound. Anger is fast and can be discharged quickly. But attending to it, watching it, trading it in for what’s underneath, that takes time and patience and, on the part of a parent, a real investment. Living out your name once again, Grace. : )

      • Grace

        Thank you Kelly 🙂
        and your name must mean~encourager to the encouragers, along with warrior~
        excellent combo!

  • Thank you, Kelly, for your wise words again. It really resonated with me that I have to let go and allow the mystery and uncertainty to lead me in my life and not think or have to figure all things out for myself. It somehow makes me feel that I can let go and not have to control everything as I have tried to do. I will try to let go more and let in the uncertainty of life and watch the stars of my life shine in my night sky!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Jenny! It’s a lovely idea that your life can become like stars, too, but you get to fully experience and see it only when you let the darkness of mystery in. Then, mystery would be a gift instead of a danger!

  • Love Lee

    Liberating ourselves from the narrow certainty of judgement through self awareness and reflection to bring us into the here and now so that we may respond with our whole selves, with generosity and help to lift the world up… Thank you for pointing the Way.

  • Amy Holland

    Loved this a lot. Letting go of certainties has been the most freeing and exciting thing that has happened to me albeit lonely. There is no No Certainties group. Isn’t anger a strange thing. I tell the kids at school they have to have the reins of it or it will carry them away like a runaway horse to places they don’t want to go but I have never thought of it as a messenger. Thanks for that insight.

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  • ANNIE

    Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom with us!! When I’m reading week after

    week, I find myself thinking “where is he going with this?” then………………..
    BAM! Your SPOT ON!
    I mean i think you are? NOT CERTAIN INDEED!!

    I am just as inspired from these comments and responses <3

  • Heather PT

    Often people who are scared, anxious and unsure of the future, do not
    know how to rest in the uncertainty or breathe through the fear. They
    instead turn to anger at their impotence, and drop into the “currency”
    of adversarial relationship – them vs us, men vs women, parents vs
    kids, democrats vs republicans, blacks vs white, religion vs idiology,
    nationality vs nationality… And on and on. The definition of Satan is
    “adversary”. Anger and adversarial politics/rhetoric supports the
    opposite of Love.

  • JC

    So, I cannot stop from thinking about Yoda and his most famous quote in the Star Wars Sagas,

    “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
    Now granted, we are expected to embrace the suffering which is the hardest thing to do and which if not done causes all the side effects of life to spill out into the mess that leads some of us to therapy and others straight to avoidance behavior. I guess being angry needs only to be a passing emotion as we acknowledge it, determine it’s source and move on to more positive things.