There is nothing wrong with outrage. We would still have child labour in most countries if it were not for the outrage felt at the idea of children being crushed by factory machinery or dying while cleaning Victorian chimneys. Child labour still exists in some places— the fight for justice is never over; no battle is ever completely won — but outrage when it is discovered always wins the day. Evil — and it is evil —- cannot survive the burning light of an outraged public.
Outrage is a legitimate adult response to social and moral injustice. It can fuel debate and investigation and change. Outrage is equally legitimate from people of the right and people of the left and people of no particular political leanings. As I say, it is an adult response to things that (rightly) disturb us.
Unfortunately, adult is a fraught word. Adult is not a state but a process. Maturity is not a matter of years but of attitudes. Each of us are all the ages we have ever been.
That is why outrage so often turns into its simpler sibling. Rage is our four-year old response. Who hasn’t seen a toddler throw a tantrum when he or she can’t get what they want right this minute? The red face, the gesticulating limbs, the almost inarticulate howls of “I want.” Kind of reminds me of myself when I grow uncontrollably angry about some horrible racist or misogynistic remark or action (among many other things).
Rage is fueled by our lack of control. We want something — a new gadget, world peace — that we can’t obtain. We feel powerless and so we have a tantrum. Rage leads to fury, violence, threats of violence — but seldom leads to change. Screaming at someone almost never makes them change. Violence is at most a temporary incentive to change but soon leads to retribution. An endless cycle of toddler tantrums.
With outrage, we can be motivated to act, not simply to rage at an injustice but to take reasonable adult action to change it. So the next time you read something or see something that outrages you, think before you react. Act maturely to make it go away. And if you can’t maybe it would be better for your inner peace to turn away for a minute, absorb what is right with the world rather than simply rage against it.
We can’t control our emotions but we can prevent them from controlling us. Awareness leads inevitably to self-awareness which can lead to empowerment. Maybe we can’t change the world. But we can change our little corner of it.
And that’s ten minutes.