Making Sense of Outrage
Does the curiosity ever roll around in your head and not quite make sense?
And continue to nag you until it does make sense?
This happened to me last week as I caught a few network morning shows and scrolled through my Facebook feed. Much of the news and Facebook chatter was about Cecil the lion. We have all formed opinions, and the national sentiment is pretty clear. But, there was something about the outrage and cries for vigilante justice that made me curious, almost uncomfortable.
You have to know this about me: I have a visceral and inexplicable reaction to mob mentalities and overt acts of hatred. It’s a weird characteristic that has confounded me forever. I was born with a huge sense of empathy, and I’m a Libra (you know, the scale sign?) so having empathy for more than one side of a story is my trademark – or downfall.
So, when the country became immersed in the trophy hunting case of a Minnesota dentist, I skipped right over the obvious, the horrors of trophy hunting and the egregious, seemingly illegal choices of some hunters, and went to the more sociological and philosophical, what are we doing to ourselves?
As I ruminated on the ugliness that ensued, calling for this dentist’s personal destitution, harm, and his death, I came across this term: selective outrage. You have probably known about it for a long time, but I had never heard the term. And you know what? It made me feel better. It gave a name to what I thought was going on. I could conjure up a little more compassion for a nation of vigilantes and for those people suddenly horrified by this act of trophy hunting gone violently wrong.
You see, I know people who have been trophy hunting in Africa. They live in my community, but no one has threatened them or their businesses. And most of the people outraged about this incident on my Facebook feed have never really mentioned their solidarity and passion for protecting African animals before (except Martha Beck -- she is an elephant whisperer and visits Africa several times a year to raise money for Londolozi, a wild game preserve).
Lest you think I am insane, I am outraged and bothered by things too. I’m bothered not only by the killing of wild African animals, but cruelty to animals in general. I am vehemently opposed to cruelty towards humans, too. But I choose to react differently. I am not comfortable joining vigilante torch-and-pitchfork campaigns that seem to support our rectitude, although I get it.
But it seems to me that our words could be far more constructive if we join forces with those who have already been engaged in the worthy causes I might come to know through daily news stories. In the case of Cecil, I know of many dedicated souls fighting for the protection of animals in Africa. But somehow, instead of constructive action, we feel such compulsion towards and a right to futile outrage.
But what are we doing? How is it helpful?
After a bit of research on selective outrage (is that anything like the selective hearing in spouses and teenagers?) I have finally made sense of my overall confoundedness at visceral, Facebook reactions to fleeting news stories. A passage in the book The Use of Force in Humanitarian Intervention: Morality and Practicalities by John Janzekovic, for me, explains and helps me reconcile this phenomenon.
A sense of international outrage is usually very selectively applied to specific humanitarian circumstances. It is also generally short-lived and it relies more on an observer’s immediate feelings of revulsion or shock regarding a particular act. This is not an objective appraisal of the seriousness of the situation. Many examples demonstrate the fickleness of international outrage over humanitarian issues.
For some reason, the above notion has totally diffused my irritation at the momentary mob mentality that fuels my Facebook feed and national news headlines. It helps me to know that the initial outrage of a population is not necessarily a true reflection of what is happening or the whole story.
But, some good that comes from selective outrage. I would offer that when we show such a reaction to a news story or viral social media topic, we are raising an awareness of the subject. In that sense, we might be helping people find their passion and they will ultimately work to make a difference for the cause. That person may even be you!
For some of us, a visceral outcry by the masses prompts research and learning. I am always inspired by news stories that evoke national debate. In true Libra form, I can’t help but wade through articles and information that present both sides of a story and give historical context to the debate. I have learned so much lately on racism, the confederacy, poverty in America, trophy hunting and Donald Trump (okay, still baffled by this one)!
If you are outraged about a subject or topic you see in the news, I bet there are people in the trenches already making a difference for that cause. Your new-found passion could possibly inspire you to loftier purpose than verbally berating another person or sharing a targeted meme on Facebook. That kind of reaction, in my opinion, results in sending negativity out into the world.
Don’t worry, I am right there with you. I am sharing this scrumptious salmon recipe with you because I love salmon; it’s one of the few fish I like, and I recently learned that most of the fresh salmon we catch is exported to China. Now, most of the things I use in my house are probably assembled in China, or at least overseas. But it makes me crazy that we can catch fresh salmon here and send it away. We then import salmon for our consumers. What the heck?! That doesn’t even make sense – unless you are in the business of making money, I guess.
As much as the whole food industry makes me crazy, I chose to read more about the plight of salmon, the salmon fishermen, the economy of fish in our country, and have edifying conversations when I can.
I scour the aisles for fresh salmon and rejoice when I find it.
So, I think that when a reported crime or injustice inspires your passion, doing research and helping in a constructive way makes our world a far better place.
And it may even end the atrocities you are denouncing now with your words.
In times of national outrage, do not just be the town criers. Rather, find action in your passion.
That’s how you really change the world.
The Busy Buddha
EDITED BY: Sara Neyer
FIND THE KRAFT RECIPE HERE!
In your opinion, what positive outcomes can be derived from a negative collective consensus? Give an example.