How to fight against the Age of Outrage

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How to fight against the Age of Outrage

September 7, 2022 - Erin Kerry

Stock photo: A businesswoman uses a megaphone to shout at her open laptop. © Kaspars Grinvalds /stock.adobe.com

Stock photo: A businesswoman uses a megaphone to shout at her open laptop. © Kaspars Grinvalds /stock.adobe.com

Stock photo: A businesswoman uses a megaphone to shout at her open laptop. © Kaspars Grinvalds /stock.adobe.com

People who have an obsessive urge to check the news are more likely to suffer from physical and mental health problems according to a new research study out of Texas Tech.

And researchers from Yale have found that social media’s reward system of “likes” can influence the levels of moral outrage people experience. The higher the likes you receive on an outraged post, the greater the chance you will post in outrage later on.

These are the physical symptoms of a new virus threatening us all.

This virus has infiltrated our homes, our churches, our businesses, and our schools. And we are currently caught up in a viral response system.

We are tangled up in an Age of Outrage, and nobody is immune.

The subtle, primary symptom of this virus is that most people are reacting and few are responding.

And I believe there’s a physiological reason this is occurring on the brain level.

Why are we so mad?

Unfortunately, most of us live in a constant state of stress. We are overworked, tired, emotionally drained, sleep-deprived, and burned out. We do everything on the go, from our fast food drive-throughs, to grocery delivery, to our Amazon orders. We shorten all the errands so we can stuff more activities and productivity in.

Physiologically speaking, when we are living off of stress hormones, in a constant state of fight or flight, we simply can’t use our prefrontal cortex to connect, show empathy, and make good decisions. I believe this is what shows up in our social media conversations, our reactionary posts, and what we see happening from the top down, even in government.

So we find ourselves in the middle of an entire nation filled with people who lash out and fire off quick rants via the safety of social media instead of responding thoughtfully and with empathy. I can only assume that if this is what is happening online, this is also pouring out into our day-to-day relationships. I know for me, I am quick to snap at my husband or kids when I’m stressed about other things.

In fact, there are times I’ve found myself so bothered by social media and all the outrage that it has actually caused me to become distant and annoyed with my husband and kids when they’ve done nothing to offend me.

Weird, right?

That’s maybe not so weird in light of what this kind of toxic stress does to our brain and our ability to engage with others in a healthy way.

We must do a better job at handling our stress and our triggers.

We can’t control what goes on, but we can control our response.

A case for cognitive dissonance

Lately I have been wrestling with the concept of cognitive dissonance and how it shows up in  our world today. Cognitive dissonance is “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.”

What this means is when you encounter an opinion or belief contrary to your own, cognitive dissonance causes a knee-jerk response of defensiveness, shutdown, or absolute denial that any belief system other than your own could potentially be true. It causes an inability to give anyone the benefit of the doubt because that may mean your belief isn’t as rock solid as you thought, or, maybe, you have been wrong.

When a long-held belief gets challenged, it causes more shutdown and more defensiveness. These days, in the reactionary realm of social media, you can always guarantee the presence of an article or video with clickbait headlines to “prove” a point. Cognitive dissonance causes such an internal storm that it’s nearly impossible to listen to anything other than your own view.

What we have collectively experienced in the last few years thrusted us into major states of cognitive dissonance.

Consider the polarizing issues of masks, vaccines, body autonomy, gun control, Critical Race Theory, inflation, and loan forgiveness—all the things that divide us right now. So many of these conversations and posts that start off as the harmless sharing of information soon get heated and uncomfortable or turn political.

Because of cognitive dissonance, we address the situation based on our own perspectives and motivation. Does the government care about me? Does the government simply want control and power? Do we need more control to regulate this insanity?

Depending on which side you land, it’s difficult to consider the opinions or thoughts of the opposing view. Furthermore, we relentlessly follow those who support our stance, therefore validating our beliefs and causing us to dig our heels in more deeply, to the point where we can’t listen to any other opinions because everyone else is wrong. Thanks to the algorithms in our social media newsfeeds, we rarely have to listen to another perspective.

I am guilty of this myself. Personally, when I am overly stressed by what is going on in my own life, it’s difficult for me to hear the perspective of a differing opinion. It’s too conflicting. It’s an attack on my pride. So I’d much rather shut the person down, call them out, or make a reactionary rude statement, making me feel better in the midst of my indecision.

And let’s be honest: it’s much easier to call someone a conspiracy theorist, anti-vaxxer, left-wing liberal, or Marxist than actually deal with your own heart and stress levels. Name-calling is much quicker than asking the offending person to share their perspective and why they see the world the way they do.

Most of us have deep fears or core beliefs that drive us. Oftentimes we don’t even acknowledge they are there.

So what can we do when we feel outrage simmering?

4 steps to fight online outrage

Consider these four steps when you encounter a belief, opinion, or post that causes you to get defensive or that brings up an unpleasant emotion.

  1. Take a step back. Ask: Why is that post making me upset? What about this post offends me or annoys me? What other feelings does this post bring up in me? Fear? Anxiety? Anger? Disbelief? Denial?
  2. Dig into your core beliefs. Ask: What do I believe about the world that is causing me to respond in this way? What in my belief system is being threatened? What fear do I have that is driving this need to attack and defend? Where do I need to ask the Holy Spirit to renew my mind?
  3. Seek to understand the core beliefs of others. We are so quick to generalize and put people into categories based on what they post or say or what group they appear to align with. In reality, there is a wide spectrum of opinions and views. Not everyone fits on one side or the other. Some are caught in the middle or bounce around depending on current events and what threats they think they’re facing. We are often quick to assume, to pass judgment, and to box people in. Those kinds of generalizations are divisive and cause even more unrest and confusion.
  4. Offer grace and compassion. If we can just see that many people are responding based on their own fear and belief system, we can be more compassionate. Sometimes, when I read a post that triggers me, I step back and say to myself, “Wow, that person must be very anxious and afraid right now.” Social media doesn’t always give us the best views of people. We are seeing sides of people who we care about and who we know are not always the angry, finger-pointing people they appear to be on social media. Offer them grace.

The last thing I should mention that sits at the root of my belief system is a concept of “loving my neighbor.” And as much as cognitive dissonance causes me to want to judge, name-call, brush aside, scoff, and share articles that call people out, I defer to giving others the benefit of the doubt.

Everyone is doing the best they can. You are. I am.

Even when we disagree.

Instead of getting caught up in the Age of Outrage, let’s flip the script and make it the Age of Engage.

Let’s dig deeper and get to the root of our disconnection, engaging with and acknowledging our own beliefs, triggers, emotions, and perceptions and learning more about how they shape us so we can stop reacting and start responding.

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