Our Raging World   6 comments

The United States has become an angry society. Lots of people would like to blame the gun culture, video games and movies for our growing culture of violence, but I think we need to examine ourselves. Do you drive? Are you a respectful driver who stays in your lane, maintains a moderate speed and smiles at the toll booth girl? Or are you weaving in and out of traffic, accelerating rapidly, slamming on your brakes and gesturing menacingly at your fellow drivers?

Before I wrote a word, I went out and researched this topic. The issue of aggressive driving has been addressed in plenty of articles, but it was the comments to those articles that fascinated me. “Well, for every aggressive driver out there there’s 3 or 4 bad drivers that force the rest of us to deal with them. Get the bad drivers off the road and aggression would end.”  I suspect this commenter is in the second group of drivers and the “bad” drivers are in the first. His frustration with their polite driving is a symptom of the rage that you can see all throughout society.

I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but the 21st century has mostly been a decade of venting our spleens and now our young men are shooting strangers in public venues. What is wrong with us? Is it really just that we have guns in our homes? Maybe we need to take the cars away too because road rage kills far more people than guns do. According to the FBI’s latest statistics, so do fists and feet. We can’t do without those, so maybe we need to look elsewhere – away from the tools of rage to the source of our rage itself.

Politically, we’re a deeply divided nation struggling among ourselves over the fundamental nature of our governmental system. Economically, nothing makes you angrier than not being able to find a job so you can feed your family or feeling trapped in a job you hate because of limited choices in the job market. Socially, we’re also grown extremely divisive. For every us there is a them and there is an increasing desire among some groups to control “them”. As a society, we feel overwhelmed and overstimulated, in debt, trapped, failing, undervalued, invisible and silent, tyrannized by greater powers, and unable to control the environment around us. If the United States were an individual, we’d be at risk for domestic violence. And, what a surprise – we collectively show all the symptoms!

Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. There’s nothing wrong with being irritated over some of life’s difficulties. Your husband leaves the toilet seat up and you fall in. Do you feel valuable to him? Does your wife leave the grounds in the coffee maker for you to deal with? Do you feel validated? Those are normal life reactions. The instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. Slam the seat down, call your husband a jerk and leave the coffee grounds in the maker for him to deal with. Biologically, our bodies don’t know the difference between irritation and response to a threat. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival. When life’s stressors are coming at you at a million miles an hour whenever you’re awake, you’re in a constant state of adaptive response to threat. Our modern society, with our instant access to news on a 24-hour cycle and all the stressors of jobs, government, regulation, debt, smart phones, and just the sheer number of activities we feel obligated to participate in … no wonder we’re angry to the point of rage. We have left the realm of normality as a society and we wish we could slap someone to set everything right.

We, rightly, think that walking into a mall or movie theater with a collection of guns and randomly shooting at people is not a normal reaction to life stressors. If only we were still normal! Our society is collectively stressed out and constantly enraged. Our driving behavior and Internet communications show that far too many of us think it’s acceptable to inflict emotional harm on others when they’re stressing us out. Add to that a little schizophrenia, thousands of images of simulated murder, an absent father, a society that does not value those who can’t handle stress and is constantly presenting new threats to deal with and I don’t wonder that an occasional 20-something man starts shooting at strangers in a gun-free zone.

Thirty years ago, there was a popular psychological movement that said “holding in anger is unhealthy. You should let it all hang out. Yell at your spouse, flip off the bad drivers, and tell subculture groups you don’t like that they’re evil.” Psychologists now say that this is a dangerous myth that drives an increase in anger in general and pushes some people to hurt others. Research has found that “letting it rip” with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you’re angry with) resolve the situation.

So what’s the answer? We don’t need more laws to change our collective behavior. Taking control away from people who are already feeling out-of-control escalates the behavior. A top-down approach will breed rebellion. Society is made up of individuals, so individuals working toward a common goal can affect society for the better. We need individual self-examination and individual self-control. Shut off the smart phone and the TV. Spend some time contemplating your navel or read a book. Take a deep breath. Relax. Mind your mouth (or your typing fingers). Don’t say it. Don’t use the gesture you want to use. Control yourself. Adopt reason. Few things in life are the end of the world and getting angry over trivial issues leaves you with no energy to address big ones.

Sometimes, our anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in our lives. The economy stinks and our government is making it worse. Some of us are drowning in debt and the rapidly inflating cost of living. Anger over that is not misplaced, and it may provide the energy for change in our society, but I submit that there are no quick fixes. The cultural belief that every problem has a solution and that the problem is “other people who just won’t get on board” adds to our frustration. A society built on individual rights and responsibilities may not provide immediate solutions. It doesn’t mean you subjugate the half of society that values personal liberty in order to force your “solution” on society. Tyranny rarely provides ownership and maybe our solutions will ultimately be found in how we handle and face problems rather than solving the problem itself.

Maybe if we’d all slow down, listen to one another, consider that the “other guy” may have a sliver of sense among a wagon load of stupidity, stop jumping to conclusions over sound bites, and recognize that “other people” doing things differently from me or you is not necessarily a societal apocalypse – maybe we’ll find solutions just in the process of letting some of our anger and frustration go.

We are the problem and we must be the solution.

6 responses to “Our Raging World

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  1. Great essay! Thanks. I’m reblogging this.

    Like

  2. Reblogged this on sally1137 and commented:
    “If the United States were an individual, we’d be at risk for domestic violence. And, what a surprise – we collectively show all the symptoms!”

    Like

  3. I drive like an old lady…..unless I’m in Christine. Of course all those maimed and dead pedestrians were her fault as I had nothing to do with it.

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    • I’m often guilty of angry driving myself. The finger I’m pointing as three pointing back at me. My social worker friends would say that cars are an extension of ourselves that we somehow feel provides us anonymity. We think we can get away with being jerks behind the wheel. Of course, there are consequences to society when a large percentage of drivers are driving angry.

      Like

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