We are coming near the end of the year, and as I think back on what has perhaps defined our cultural climate for the past year, all I can think about is anger. People are literally mad about everything. Of course, there are definite commercial benefits to our never-ending cycle of outrage.
After all, if I want you to donate money to my political campaign, it makes an awful lot of sense for me to demonize my opponent. If I can make you mad at my opponent, you’re much more likely to support me.
If I want you to watch my TV channel, I need to make you mad. Why? Once you get mad, you are much more likely to come back to my network again in the future. After all, because you are mad at the other guy, there’s no way you are going to go to his network. Therefore, you only have mine left.
Even on our own social media feeds, how many of your friends have you seen blow up at each other in the last year over something that is really insignificant and pointless?
We are all on edge, and we often times find ourselves getting pushed over the edge. Or, that’s what you want me to say. You want me to say that it is all other people getting us angry. In fact, isn’t that what I just outlined above? There are people with vested commercial interests who want to make us angry so that they benefit financially, right?
No, that’s not what I said. I never pinned the responsibility for anger on politicians, TV networks or other people. I said that they can benefit from our never-ending cycle of outrage. However, the anger is ours, and we need to own that.
It is ultimately my decision to become angry or to not become angry. We need to take ownership of that whether we like it or not. People can push our buttons, and people can encourage us to become angry, but here’s a little thought experiment for you. Hypothetically, let’s say that it really bothers you when someone cuts you off when you are driving down the road. That makes you angry. It is worth keeping in mind that there are lots of people who do not get angry in identical circumstances. Therefore, the anger doesn’t necessarily follow from the action of being cut off. It is a combination of the action of being cut off with your own personal propensity to become angry in certain situations. However, there is not a necessary connection between being cut off and being angry.
I can already anticipate some of you screaming at me. But what about Donald Trump or Barack Obama? After all, that’s the elephant in the room for most of you who I imagine are reading this. You are here for a political discussion. They do things that simply make you angry, and you would argue that the things that they do justify anger. You would contend, and I would agree, that there is such a thing as righteous anger. In these situations, you would argue that it is indeed a good thing to become angry. Anger brings about action, and action is the only way that things are ever changed.
I can go with you about halfway. I agree that there is such a thing as righteous anger. There is no doubt that there are things that should upset us and make us mad. They should motivate us to action.
However, that is the time when the anger needs to tone down. Why? I would suggest some wisdom from Proverbs 29:11, “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.”
Let me ask you how often a raging mob has changed the world. You might answer with the French Revolution. Yeah, you saw how well that turned out and what happened when a raging mob actually ended up in power and turned the guillotine on its political opponents. We all experience anger, but we cannot fall into the trap of failing to calm ourselves down. We need to heed this biblical wisdom and actually stop to think about what we are doing and the type of world we are creating.
Consider what happens if we allow our anger to continue influencing our decisions. When we are angry, we don’t think straight. I think we all know that experientially. When you are upset, you are much more likely to say things that you wouldn’t say when you were calm. You are more likely to hurt someone else in a fog of rage. You might not mean it, and you might regret it later, but you still say things because you are so upset.
If that happens to us on a personal level, how much more damage could be done on a larger level?
What happens when people just let their anger continually boil, never take a step back and never think about what they are doing? It is just like what can happen to us on a personal level. A lot of damage can be done because we aren’t really thinking. To solve big problems, we need to think as clearly as possible. The anger needs to motivate us to action, but once we are in action, we need to let cooler heads prevail and actually consider what we are about to do. Action is necessary in many cases, so I’m not saying that we just sit by and let anything happen. There are plenty of things that should upset us and make us want to change the world. However, when we begin to take steps to do it, we need to think.
I think that’s the whole point of the proverb. The wise are going to bring about calm in the end. That’s what we need to consider I think more than anything in 2018. Do we really have any intention with all of our righteous anger to bring about calm in the end? Or, are we simply in love with being outraged?
And, like it or not, this is an individual choice. I know that it is tempting to say that politics make me angry, but really, you make yourself angry over politics. Therefore, you can also make the decision to lessen your own anger and actually take concrete steps to do something that will make a positive difference.
I think, looking forward to 2019, that is the message I hope people actually begin to realize. We are really good at being angry, but we are not really good at calming down and thinking about solutions. Unfortunately, I think that is because coming up with solutions takes a lot of work and a lot of thought. It’s really easy to be in opposition to something, but it is a lot harder to propose a better solution. However, remaining in an elevated state of anger all the time isn’t healthy for us individually, and it is not healthy for those around us. Multiply that by thousands of people around the country, and no wonder we see so much chaos. We have people who are not willing to actually calm down and think rationally.
Of course, people respond to this thought by saying that a particular evil is just so egregious that they really have no choice but to be angry. And, we are back where we started, because that is the core of my contention. You make the choice to be angry. Sometimes that is a good choice, but what I am suggesting is that there are times when being angry is not enough because it actually undermines the cause you are fighting for. It takes greater strength and courage to calm down, think, propose a solution and take active steps to achieve that solution. After all, isn’t that what we all want to do? Isn’t that what we are after? If we are mad about something, don’t we want a solution? The best way to do that, which unsurprisingly is consistent with biblical testimony, is to not allow our rage to take over. Rather, we need to calm down in the end and actually seek to find a better way.
I don’t think people are going to love these thoughts. I think I am probably going to be accused of defending one position or another. Nevertheless, no matter where you fall on any type of political or ideological spectrum, this is important for you to realize, and I think it is the only thing that is going to improve our culture going forward. Until we take responsibility for our own anger and realize that we can reduce it for the benefit of ourselves and those around us, I don’t think much is going to change, and the world may in fact get worse.