Electric sparks on metal wireby Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and Boston City Paper, 3/2011
 
Why are we so angry?
 
One of the magazines I read featured a recent editorial on that very subject. The author was trying to come up with a label to define the decade of 2000-2009, and he suggested, “The anger decade.” And it resonated with me. It seemed to fit.

We are so angry these days. Elected officials — both local and national — argue in very public forums, arguments that often become quite personal.. Tune into any cable news show and there are very heated exchanges — anger, yelling, name calling, labeling.

The eras of polite discourse and conversation, the exchange of ideas, is clearly over.

We delight in, and consume, daily helpings of train wrecks like Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan — people who appear to genuinely need medical help, people who demonstrate obvious signs of mental illness. We don’t want to help them; we delight in their breakdown and failure. We scoop up the tabloids detailing rants, meltdowns and worse.

Students bully with Face Book and MySpace and texts.

We eviscerate each other on anonymous news groups, blogs and discussion groups.

We say hurtful, horrific things in email we would never say face to face.

Some couples no longer break up face to face — they break up via twitter and texts.

We don’t talk face to face any more. We snipe through technology. We have 24/7 cable shows whose sole purpose seems to be to spread lies, propaganda, or an agenda of antagonism. Sometimes the anger boils over into rage.

We have an incredible world wide web of communication that gets used to create anonymous bully pulpits. We use MySpace and Face Book and blogs and twitter to slander, to hurt, and to say horrible things to each other — things we would NEVER say in person.

We are slow and unwilling to forgive the smallest slight. In fact, the mere perception of a slight can end a friendship or relationship.

Road rage is everywhere — and we hear about people actually leaving their cars to ATTACK another driver — over red lights and parking spaces.

Why are we so angry?

I used to enjoy a web site called TrekWeb.com, where I got the latest Star Trek news, and I even participated in the discussion boards. But in the last few years it has become a killing field for bile-spewing hatred. The most benign comments, i.e., “I like the new movie” are pounced upon with antagonism and vitriol. I don’t go there anymore. Thousands of discussion groups are like this.

Don’t believe me? Check out ANY internet discussion group — even CNN. No matter what the topic, eventually someone lobs a grenade into the hornet’s nest.

Channel surf to any talk show — ANY discussion — and the words are frequently heated, or on the verge of fury. Passionate belief has given way to who can yell loudest. The anger is seething. The rage and tension are palatable.

Once, I made the huge mistake of submitting my opinion on a subject to a newspaper blog. HUGE MISTAKE. I was annihilated. I couldn’t believe the fury, the hostility, in the comments. As I scanned the other topics, I was amazed that any topic, no matter how benign, could metastasize into a personal attack, a spew of ranting and raving.

And of course, 99% of the comments were anonymous. It’s the anonymous aspect that empowers so many people — that ability to not just fire shots across the bow but launch direct attacks against a perceived opponent in complete anonymity.

Why are we so angry?

Look, anger, when controlled and released properly, like steam through an open pressure cooker, is healthy and necessary. In fact, its proper release is key to our survival. We are an emotional species and our anger cannot and must not be suppressed. It has to have a healthy outlet. Anger, when properly channeled, can lead to stress relief and constructive change.

But what about when the anger is not channeled properly? Or when the basis for the anger is insubstantial, or worse, a product of our own imagination? When the anger is most definitely NOT warranted?

That’s when it’s dangerous. That’s when it has to be reigned in, evaluated for what it really is, and quelled. Lose your cool, lose your life, as someone once said.

Why are we so angry?

Yeah, it’s been a decade like no other — September 11 certainly shifted the mood and tone of this country in a way few events ever have. And yeah, we have a bad economy, joblessness, immigration issues, a government so many don’t believe in, take your pick. But besides the unthinkable 9/11, we’ve faced most of these issues before, many times, and got through them.

Why is this era so different?

Is it the saturation of communication? Is it that we have so many ways to communicate, that we stopped, well, COMMUNICATING?

Is it that the world has become so unmanageably fast paced that we simply have no time to be civil to each other, so we take the easy way out by de-friending, sending hurtful emails, blasting people anonymously or satiating ourselves with 24/7 Anger-TV?

I don’t have answers. I wish I did. But I do have concerns and fears. Because I believe if we as a people continue on this “All rage, all the time,” we are most certainly doomed to failure.

I remember a great line from a great book, Dr. Carl Sagan’s “Contact,” in which an extraterrestrial was asked what he thought of the people of the Earth. He said, “You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”

How apt. This world is huge, and despite so many different ways of communicating, so many of us feel so cut off and alone.

Maybe we need to stop all this communication and start COMMUNICATING.

And we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves:

Why are we so angry?

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