Experiencing Outrage Overload?

Outrage management for when your supply of care can't keep up with demand.

Posted Apr 16, 2019

Clowns to the left of you, jokers to the right – it’s overwhelming. Every day you hear about fools and jerks doing people wrong, institutions making a mess of everything – the news, the gossip, friends venting their frustrations.

So many outrages!

It didn’t use to be like this. Now it’s just too much. You’re overexposed to the world’s woes. Your supply of concern can’t keep up with the demand. Where’s the relief? What’s the solution?  Here are a few popular ones:

  1. Check out: The world is a mess but it’s not your problem. You’ve got your own priorities. Staying happy, peaceful and sane tops your list, so just minimize exposure to the outrages. Don’t hang out with negative people. Don’t read the news since you can’t do anything about it anyway.
  2. Be indignant locally: Stick to the outrages that affect you most. Join the fray of competing voices, grievances competing for attention.
  3. Consolidate to one impulsive finger-point: Casually simplify all the outrages down to The One Real Problem, maybe one faction that’s causing all the trouble, a scapegoat.
  4. Be above it all: Condemn  humanity itself, since as Seinfeld said, “people are the worst.” Wear cynicism and nihilism as a badge of honor.
  5. Condemn outrage: Treat outrage as a moral failing. Refuse to be negative, judgmental, ‘cause love is the answer. That way you can block as unenlightened anyone who expresses outrage.
  6. Numbly bounce from outrage to outrage and continue burning out: In other words, just keep doing what you’re doing.

There’s a better way – better for you, better for addressing outrages:

7. Become an amateur criminologist: Criminologists have transcended outrage, they don’t fret and yell about the existence of outrageous behavior. They’re calm, patient students, researching carefully to understand what makes people tick sometimes like time bombs. They're basically psychologists with a focus on what goes wrong with people, how to constrain the most damaging impulses in any of us. 

This approach is different from the other six:

1. Criminologist neither flips out nor check out. They’re calmly attentive to the outrageous.

2. They don’t prioritize their own victimhood: Though they may have a specialization within criminology, it’s not personal. They aren’t most outraged by the greatest injustices to them.

3. In speculating about the root of all outrage, they’re not impulsive but careful, deliberate, thoughtful, curious, disciplined and enquiring. They don’t just scapegoat easy targets.

4. Criminologists aren’t above it all. They can’t be since they’re studying the potential for bad behavior in anyone, which would include themselves.

5. They don’t pretend love is the answer or that outrages are beneath them.

6. They’re focused, not whipsawed by the outrage du jour.

There are some disadvantages to being an amateur criminologist. For one thing, it takes more effort than the other six approaches. But the main disadvantage is that you can’t reap the primary benefit of outrage: The righteousness that indignation feeds.

Outrage is therapeutic. When we’re outraged by someone else’s bad behavior, we forget our own bad behavior. Self-awareness vaporizes, self-aggrandizement takes over.

You know the feeling. When you’re angry at someone for being inconsiderate to you, you naturally and instantly forget the ways in which you have been inconsiderate of others. We call it righteous indignation but really, it’s indignation-fueled self-righteousness.

You also know the feeling on the receiving end. When a friend rails against some injustice to them, you can hear how much pride they’re taking in being the pure saintly victim. People come for the outrage but stay for the self-righteousness. Call it, Exempt by contempt: “I couldn’t possibly be a manipulator since I hate manipulators.”

Outrage is fun. It makes you feel like a saint. Outrage sells. Media companies have made billions fueling self-righteous indignation. They pretend they’re promoting a cause, but really they’re selling self-affirmation, the rhapsodic joy of railing against the failings of others. It’s one of the reasons you’re inundated with outrages these days, so many people indulging in the rhapsodic pleasures of outrage, some of it warranted, but a lot of it gratuitous, just people getting their jollies off.

As an amateur criminologist, you don’t get to enjoy rhapsodic outrage. Still, it’s better for you and for the world that you abstain. There are more than enough outrages in this world without people piling on just for the self-righteous rush of scorning other people’s bad behavior.

We make a mistake in condemning outrage, judgment, and hate. They have their place. You wouldn’t condemn the victims of a despot’s atrocities for being outraged, and even if you would, you’d be condemning behavior that outrages you.

A thoughtful careful, criminologist recognizes that outrage isn’t the problem. It’s the concomitant self-righteousness that’s the problem. It’s why so many victims of outrageous despots become despots themselves if they get a chance.

Here's a 7-minute video listing 11 pitfalls that amateur criminologists avoid in their effort to figure out what makes people behave outrageously: