Moving Past Outrage
Judging by my Facebook news feed, people are plenty mad about stuff these days. Most recently, they’re outraged about the violence in Gaza and the depression that took Robin Williams.
They love to proclaim how angry they are, and how unacceptable it all is. Today, someone posted a photo of a bloodied, unconscious child with the words “Can we all agree that this is not OK?” emblazoned across it in glowing letters.
Well, yeah. We can. So what? What is anyone accomplishing by proclaiming their opposition to something as obvious killing little children? Clearly, it’s unacceptable. Obviously, most people agree. Just we people agree that there’s something wrong when one of the most beloved public figures of our time feels he has to exit this world.
It reminds me of my experiences serving on a condo board. Everybody loves to express their outrage, at the Annual General Meeting, or in our monthly meetings, over things like people dumping broken furniture in the garbage area or letting their pets defecate in the flower beds. Then they sit back self-righteously, smug in the knowledge that they’ve done their duty by speaking out.
But then somebody has to figure out what to do about it. Acknowledging the unacceptability of something does not automatically stop it. Unacceptable things happen for a reason. They do not simply stop when enough people get mad about them. Getting them to stop is almost always difficult and complicated. Speaking out then sitting back as if your work is done is a cop out, if you ask me.
Getting mad can be a good first step towards changing things. But the next step is the key: what are you going to do about it? Write your elected representative? Change your consumer habits? Change the way you relate to the people around you? What?*
If you want to share it with the world once you’ve engaged in action of that kind, it’s not a bad idea. “This is unacceptable and this is what I’m doing about it, please join me” is a lot more productive than, “This is unacceptable, get mad with me!”
*Note: I realize that the Robin Williams suicide triggered a wave of exhortations to be more aware of mental health and depression, which is better than nothing, but still pretty weak sauce in my opinion. We need more specificity, more tangibility, and more personal accountability than the “be more aware”-type messages, especially after the first 5 or 10 people have repeated it.