Sick, then outraged
A pounding in your ears synchronizes with your rapid heartbeat. A tension in the muscles is paralyzing your feet. Your mouth is running dry and tears are swelling in your eyes. Impulsively, you are mumbling expletives through deep and thick breaths. Then, a dizzying spell and a trembling of hands.
Take a pause. These are not symptoms of a body invaded by a virus. Nonetheless, the whole world has been feeling them. We can perhaps all attest to such sensory experiences in the past weeks or even the past months. They come at any time and in the unlikeliest of places.
No, this is not a viral disease. Rather, these are symptoms of a growing outrage. Its genesis is the invasion by vexing thoughts of a person’s mind.
Outrage finds its most timely definition in Dictionary.com, which describes it as “a powerful feeling of resentment or anger aroused by something perceived as an injury, insult, or injustice.” In a world plagued exactly by such iniquities—injuries, insults, and injustices—outrage is accompanying the new normal into our present realities.
Outrage is everywhere. It is manifested in the protests erupting across the United States and Europe in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. It is in the anti-mainland sentiments that have resurrected in Hong Kong, expressing defiance against a new national security law being imposed by China. And in the Philippines, outrage is being shared across social media platforms as netizens trend the calls to junk the controversial Anti-Terrorism Bill—just the latest government action to get the goat of the public.
Meanwhile, we are still very much grappling with a pandemic. The world has been very sick. And still, while sick and anxious, we are also outraged.
Indeed, these are not the times to be silent about things that matter. Each day introduces a new incident, a new issue, or a new source of emotional triggers. I can barely think of a close friend who can last a minute on Twitter in Zen-like equanimity. As psychologist Molly Crockett said in a speech last year, “It seems that we can hardly go five minutes without a new episode of outrage erupting in the public sphere.”
Not only has outrage become incessant and unavoidable; in the fraught times we live in, it has also become a responsibility—to act out this belief and hope that societal changes can grow out of our indignation over the wrongdoings of others.
It is important to be able to identify the right purpose to be angry about. What moves us, triggers us, and keeps our hearts pounding is a reflection of the individual moral codes we have inside. And even then, what to do with this rage?
Psychologist Zachary Rothschild pointed out in a 2017 study that moral outrage (defined as anger resulting from a violation of some ethical standards) is self-serving if its purpose is to enhance our sense of personal morality. Likewise, outrage without action is pointless. It is just any other declaration of anger for others to see, and leads to nothing in particular. Neither is it an excuse for reckless and aggressive behavior. We should not even get there.
So, people have had all this pent-up anger during these unnerving times. But it shouldn’t remain as such. It should be a call for us to educate ourselves. It is an opportunity to know realities beyond ours. As writer Ann Latham said in a Forbes magazine piece, the antidote to outrage is clarity—“truthful answers to specific questions.”
Most importantly, outrage should be a fuel for social action. One that is responsible and emphatic.
There will never be a shortage of things to trigger our buttons. But throughout, and while holding on to the value of getting angered by injustice and injury enough to want to do something about them, please also keep safe and remember to protect your mental space.
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