Age of Outrage and the Decline of Tolerance

Being outraged is becoming the norm in our society today. It is the age of outrage as we become outraged at everything. We get outraged when someone has a different political view, a different point of view about sex, marriage, abortion or just choosing not to say Merry Christmas. We love to get outraged at it all and let everyone know how strongly we feel.

What is the point of this outrage or perhaps more importantly is there any point at all? In this interconnected world we live in, embracing a culture of outrage only builds walls, creates chasms between people and alienates entire sectors of society. We seem to have become so busy defending our points of view that we miss the point of being connected. The point of being connected is to learn how to understand each other, to learn how to work together on the problems facing our world and to harness this connection to find ways to make this world a better place. Outrage will not change the world; only tolerance can do that.

Why Are We So Outraged?

Looking around online it is obvious that the one thing that is meant to help us connect with each other has, in fact, become a vehicle for blind outrage. The Internet seems to bring out our worst human tendencies. Blind rages, victimization, stereotyping, threatening and disrespect flow smoothly from our keys to the screen igniting Internet battles. Why do we do this? Why are we so outraged when confronted with a different viewpoint? Is this our new norm?

Anti-discomfort

We live in prosperous times. We are not in the midst of a great depression or a world war. Life is actually pretty good for most of us. Not many of us have ever had to deal with hardships that were normal in generations before. And so somehow we have become so used to this level of comfort that we now believe that we should be comfortable at all times. We should not feel put out, be inappropriately challenged or feel obliged to do something we don’t want to. We feel entitled to our space, our point of view, our freedom of choice and to be left in peace in our comfort-zones. We do not want to have someone’s different point of view shoved down our throats. Translated; we feel we should not have to read something we disagree with, listen to a different point of view or share a seat on a bus with someone different to us. With this sense of ultra entitlement to complete comfort, we easily slip into feeling entitled to be outraged when something pierces our comfort zones. In truth, we have forgotten how to be tolerant of others.

Tribe Culture

No matter how outrageous our point of view on a topic is, we can always find news articles, stories, and websites that confirm our view. More than that, within seconds we can find a whole tribe of people who also agree with our point of view. Within this new tribe of like-minded people, we no longer question our point of view or spend time thinking more deeply about whether it is accurate. We are in our comfort-zone with others who hold the same view. With our tribes support, we are ready to go to war to defend our right to believe our point of view. And so, we wage war against the faceless villains who disagree with our views; the them and they, whoever they are. We are so easily outraged by a comment or opinion written by someone we don’t even know and have no intention of trying to. We can hide behind the anonymity of our computers with the backing of our tribes and we rage battle against anyone who dares confront us with something we don’t believe.

Missing the Intention

When we communicate online we can convey information, but not the intention. We miss all the vital visual clues that come with face-to-face confrontations. Because we don’t have all the information about the intention of the other, we fill in the gaps with a stereotype. If we don’t like what someone is saying we assume that none of their values line up with ours, we see them as completely ‘on the other side’. Our worst tendencies and assumptions fill in the missing information about the writer. We assume the other person is an idiot, a racist, a scam artist, or a Trump supporter. These assumptions would not be made if we were having this debate across a dinner table with family.

Addicted to Outrage

The scariest thing about this outrage is the addictive nature of it. If we are honest, we can admit we like the feeling of being morally superior. We like to think we know best and that our points of view are uniquely correct. We like to have a meaningful crusade to go to battle for. We have a sense of entitlement that we deserve something better and that we are somehow not getting it. We deserve more than what we have been given and we are looking for someone to blame.

Tolerance is the key

In this connected world, you would think being tolerant would be the default position we take when reading something that challenges our beliefs. That reading and learning something new would drive us to seek to better understand people and points of view that are different to ours.

But tolerance requires an acceptance of discomfort. It requires stepping out of our entitled comfort-zones. Tolerance requires constantly challenging our own points of view and being open to the opinions of others. If we do not, we risk forgetting tolerance forever. We need to be uncomfortable, challenged and disagreed with. These are the things that make us grow, innovate and learn.

Practicing tolerance helps us keep our worst tendencies in check. We live in a time when we can communicate internationally in seconds. Our ability to connect is incredible. Tolerance teaches us that in this interconnected world we are going to read something we disagree with. We will come across things we are offended by. But tolerance allows us to be more resilient, more patient and less judgmental when we do. Tolerance helps us understand that the faceless idiot online is actually someone not so different to you. Tolerance can open our eyes to the possibility that all our opinions matter and that together we may actually be able to find new solutions to the real problems facing our planet, rather than wage wars over different viewpoints.

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