Where’s The Outrage? Not Here. | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Where’s The Outrage? Not Here.

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If I got my whole picture of the world from reading the news and people’s comments on it, I’d probably see the world as a place where everyone was in a state of perpetual outrage about something.  People even get outraged about a dip in the overall level of public outrage.  “Where is the outrage?” editorials demand.  “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” bumper stickers accuse.

One reason our culture sees outrage as important, I think, is that we tend to equate outrage with compassion and working for change.  If you aren’t outraged about this government policy, the situation in that country, the acts of this public official, and so on, we assume, you must not care and you must not be interested in doing anything about it.

Non-Outraged Service Is Possible

But do we really have to be outraged to be motivated to serve others?  In my experience, the answer is no.  When I used to volunteer at a homeless shelter preparing meals for the guests, I didn’t do it because I hated homelessness or blamed somebody for it.  I did it because I wanted a chance to serve, and I know many others who regularly do the same.

Mahatma Gandhi is a much larger-scale example.  Gandhi’s strategy for bringing about India’s independence grew out of his spiritual practice of ahimsa, or nonviolence.  Ahimsa, to Gandhi, didn’t just mean not killing others — it meant letting go of hatred and judgment as well.  Although he didn’t hate the British Empire, he peacefully and successfully opposed its rule.  Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King are two other well-known examples of people whose role in creating massive social change grew out of their spiritual practice and desire to be of service, rather than their negativity.

What examples like Gandhi and King also illustrate is that it’s possible to criticize some practice or policy without demonizing the people responsible for it.  If we disagree with what someone said or did, we don’t have to make them our enemy to say what we think.  We can calmly and firmly state our opinion without calling them a liar, idiot or sociopath.  We can also take action from a place of inner peace.

Outrage and the Ego

In fact, I think, outrage is often a cloak for our ego — for our desire to feel superior to someone else.  In a state of outrage, we’re almost always blaming somebody and portraying them as immoral, dishonest, selfish, or something else.  And this gives us the momentary high of feeling like we’re more righteous, honest, or caring than them.  Much of the news we watch and read seems devoted to giving us a “righteousness fix” — the obsessive coverage of scandals involving politicians, actors, and so on seems geared toward giving us someone to feel better than.

I’m not saying that anger, or even outrage, has no value and should be repressed.  There are moments when we need to defend ourselves.  If someone is physically attacking me, anger can be the fuel that mobilizes my body into action.

But the kinds of things we usually get outraged about aren’t threats to our lives.  Political debates, conflicts in our work and relationships, and similar issues don’t normally endanger our survival.  To put these situations in perspective — like I said in an earlier post — I think it’s useful, whenever we find ourselves getting heated and tense inside, to ask ourselves whether we’re truly in physical danger.  And to take a deep breath, relax our bodies, and let that burning desire to be “right” pass away.

Inside Personal Growth Interview

I recently did an interview about my book, Inner Productivity, with Greg Voisen of Inside Personal Growth.  We talked about many useful exercises for developing focus and motivation in your work, and how the ideas in the book can be useful strategies for living in addition to just getting your work done.  The interview was a pleasure for me to do and I hope you enjoy it.

16 thoughts on
Where’s The Outrage? Not Here.

  1. Evan

    Hi Chris, Some people are quite sociopathic.

    I think outrage lets us know about our values (this is another value to having the energy to defend ourselves).

    Anger and outrage are energy we can use to break out of a situation (in our thinking – usually harder – or physical reality). But I don’t think they can sustain creative work (people who live on anger or outrage end up burning out I think).

  2. Wilma Ham

    Hi Chris.
    That is good, because my sister made me feel irresponsible when I told her I do not watch the news or read news papers. That kind of threw me but it is about the same thing as you say here, she feels that being outraged about what happens in the world is a way to show that you care and a way to change. Thanks for pointing this out AND of course sitting there outraged does NOT change a thing.
    Doing Ho’Oponopono does change things, being non judgmental does change things and happen inside me, invisibly and yet powerfully.
    It makes me not get agitated in traffic when I am in it (well most of the time), it makes me be peaceful when in a busy shop around agitated others.
    That is what counts I think and again for validating this for me.

  3. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Evan — I think the statement that someone is a sociopath (or something similar) presents a tricky issue. It’s one thing, I think, if we’re simply saying it to mean that a person meets the definition of sociopathy in a psychology textbook. But it’s another, I think, if we’re using it to portray the other person as evil or less than us — and this is the way, I think, most people would use the term. When we call someone else bad or evil, I think that very often points to a part of ourselves that we aren’t willing to be with — maybe the part of us that’s ambitious, for instance.

    What you said about values helps me clarify my thinking here. The way I see it, I may feel angry when someone else behaves a certain way, and that may give me a sense of what I want and don’t want (at least in my present state of consciousness). But if I go out and blame the other person for the fact that I’m feeling angry, calling them bad or stupid or whatever, all I’m doing is feeding my own desire for superiority.

  4. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Wilma — I think that’s a great way to put it, that the mere fact that we’re feeling angry and we blame someone else for how we feel isn’t going to change anything. Another thing I get from what you said is that we can actually help others to feel peaceful by cultivating peace within ourselves — just as we can sense others’ tension like in the busy store example you described.

  5. Amanda Linehan

    Hi Chris – An excellent post. It reminds me of this quote “To oppose something is to maintain it.” (Ursula K. Le Guin) I’m not even totally sure what I think of that quote, but maybe what it tries to express is that when you express outrage towards something you direct even more energy towards it than it had before. Also, with “outrage” there is a tendency to separate “the other” from ourselves. So “the other” is bad or evil, and we are not like that.

  6. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Amanda — I like that quote and I think it ties in well with what you say afterward — that making an enemy out of someone usually has them just get more attached to their position and makes changing the situation less likely.

  7. Ian | Quantum Learning

    I’ve noticed that whenever I act out of anger or outrage, I usually make the situation worse in some way. The only possible benefit is that it attracts attention and gives the message that something important is happening. But I need to calm down, find my inner peace before I can actually do anything meaningful. The best things I’ve done are when I’m feeling great about myself and the world. Then I can tackle pretty much anything.

  8. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Ian — yes, I can relate to that — if I’m feeling angry, I can crank out a lot of busy-work, but I’m probably not going to tap into my real creative energy, which I can only do if I’m at peace with myself in that moment.

  9. Stacey Shipman

    When I’m angry I either pull out my journal and free write, go for a fast run with loud music or fall still into my yoga practice.

    I’ve learned that for me, anger is a fear based, defensive emotion. Thankfully I’ve learned tools over the year and I’m equipped to turn that anger into valuable information, learning, etc for others.

  10. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Stacey — I like that way of putting it, that anger often comes from a sense that we need to defend ourselves against a threat — and that feeling that we’re in a life-and-death struggle often arises in situations where it isn’t really needed, like when someone criticizes a project we’ve done or something along those lines.

  11. Sara

    Chris — I used to do “outrage” very easily. I would watch CNN and whatever issue was being discussed, take my side and feel angry. But it didn’t really change anything to be angry, it just made me feel badly.

    I loved this line in your post, “In fact, I think, outrage is often a cloak for our ego.” because I agree that outrage comes from the ego and does need to blame someone or something.

    I’ve slowly been learning to let go out of outrage. When I removed myself from the various triggers for it, I found that I didn’t need it and I felt 100% better without it. Like you said, I could still believe and act on behalf of my “causes,” I didn’t need to be outraged and fight about them.

    This was an excellent post about a good topic to consider. Thanks:~)

  12. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Sara — that’s a good point, that we’re much more effective at taking action when we aren’t all outraged about it, which is contrary to what seems to be the conventional wisdom that we have to really hate a situation to change it.

  13. Jannie Funster

    Yep, Yep. And yep on all of this outrageously good stuff, Chris. Mom has always said you catch more flies with sugar than do you vinegar and this post reminds me of that.

    And yes to what Ian says, anger only exacerbates a situation.

    Excellent!!

  14. Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord

    Chris, this was one of the best written, most concise articles I’ve seen on this topic recently. What a pleasure to read! It actually gave me a very peaceful feeling, so thank you.

    I really love how you said that anger has a time and a place: if you’re being attacked, anger can motivate you to defend yourself. If there’s no physical danger, though, anger seems to serve much less of a purpose. It seems like such an ego-driven state of mind.

    Your message on this topic needs to be spread far and wide!

  15. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Jannie — I think that’s a good way to put it — that labeling someone as our enemy or worse than us probably isn’t going to have them change what they’re doing — which is why a lot of the political rhetoric in, like, every country that has politics seems kind of counterproductive.

  16. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Megan — thanks for the appreciation, and I’m glad to hear about the effect of the article. One way to put the ego idea is that, when we’re getting angry but there isn’t a real threat to us, we’re actually defending the image we want people to have of us — for instance, maybe someone criticizes a project we’ve done, and that looks like a threat to us because we feel the need to look hardworking or smart or something along those lines.

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