Why is Everyone so Angry?

I often ask myself why everyone is so angry. Read the comments section of any online newspaper and you’ll find as much bile and invective as thoughtful argument. The media themselves certainly don’t help, always looking for the victim impact statement whenever there is a tragedy or pouncing on people while they are still in a state of shock and unbelief. (As an aside, did reporters really need to interview those children caught up in the terrible events at Sandy Hook Elementary School yesterday, or am I being ludicrously squeamish?) We have made tragedy into a spectacle and anger is, apparently, a legitimate response to any imperfect situation and a marker of our own righteousness. We get angry in order to feel good.

The trouble is, anger doesn’t get us anywhere and it doesn’t make us feel good for very long. It just intensifies the misery and compounds the negativity. When Jacintha Saldhana died, the Australian presenters responsible for the hoax telephone call received death threats from people who had no connection with Mrs Saldhana or her family. What was going on there? The presenters behaved foolishly, then compounded their folly by parading their regret for all the world to see; but who were those people who felt they had the right to punish others for what they had done? Did their anger help Mrs Saldhana’s family? No. It made a deeply sad situation even sadder. When the pope started tweeting, many used the opportunity to fill his twitterstream with dismissive and hostile remarks. Accusing the pope of bigotry or reviling him personally for the sins of his co-religionists may not sound very bad, but anyone who has been on the receiving end of false accusations knows how wounding they can be, and not only to oneself. Did berating the pope achieve anything? No. It merely made some people give up on Twitter altogether.

Yesterday, on Facebook, people misidentified the killer at Sandy Hook and started a campaign against someone completely innocent. Was that simply a collective howl of pain, feelings of revulsion and horror needing an outlet which in blind fury lashed out, or was there something uglier and more sinister at work? I don’t know, but it did nothing to assuage the grief of the bereaved or make the world a safer place to be. Instead, it made one person and his family feel very vulnerable indeed.

I think anger of the kind I am talking about is very often an inverse form of what it is ostensibly condemning, and it is deeply worrying. Regular readers know I am a great admirer of René Girard and have been profoundly influenced by some of his reflections on the nature of violence and the Christian response thereto. Passing the poison on has to stop, and it has to stop with us. Yes, we need to address situations that are wrong, but knee-jerk reactions are rarely the best even if they provide some temporary relief to our feelings.

Isaiah has a beautiful image for what the coming reign of God will achieve in our lives. He speaks of doing away with the clenched fist and the wicked word (Isaiah 58). That is precisely what our prayer during Advent aims at: a transformation of heart and mind that will allow Jesus our Messiah to unfurl our fists and open our hands to receive the gifts he wishes to give us. Sometimes those gifts are painful and costly, but he knows our pain and shares it with us. That is what the Incarnation means. This morning, in Newtown, Connecticut, people do not need our anger. They need our prayer.

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28 thoughts on “Why is Everyone so Angry?”

  1. I read recently that anger is a cheap anaesthetic which numbs our pain rather than us dealing with it effectively (can’t remember who but it struck a big fat chord). Walking through pain is more difficult but ultimately greater healing comes of it.
    Am with you & so many others praying for the people of Newtown.

  2. I suspect the comments columns are similar to our cars and trucks – they provide us with anonymity and/or a protection against retaliation. People who would not say ‘Boo!’ to a goose, once they get behind the wheel of a vehicle or keyboard of a computer, suddenly feel invulnerable and, like the dog, do it because they can.

    One of the most upsetting aspects of this how prevalent it is – so many people wanting to hurt other people. Discussions of quite innocent subjects become hijacked into tirades against something or someone. The crowds baying for blood on TV shows like Jerry Springer or Jeremy Kyle are another example.

    • Indeed, Stan, and at times this blog has been a bit of a battle-ground, too! The important thing to remember is that we are all capable of anger, but it isn’t always the most appropriate or constructive response.

  3. In the old days, when you wrote to a newspaper you had to provide a name and address and it was only withheld on request and when that seemed reasonable to the editor (either that, or you didn’t get published).

    On the internet it ought to be normal, when you comment, that people can see your real name and where you live. That way, if you say something stupid or vicious everyone knows it is you.

    I have tried requiring this on my blog, but you won’t be surprised to know it is often ignored. Significantly, the more rude the comment, the less people tend to comply (surprise!).

  4. Can one speak of small sorrows in the face of horror? Or ask for prayers for personal friends when so many strangers are suffering? Anger springs so easily at the outrageous.
    Today I am struggling with Isaiah 58, trying to keep an open hand and use a word that is not wicked, because my friend was handed by her employer a Christmas Card that contained her redundancy notice yesterday.
    Today my father would be 100 years of age and perhaps it’s time for me to follow his example, and the example of this blog of prayerful silence.

    • Nothing is too small for God’s attention, Patricia. We’ll pray for your friend. We had a very similar experience last year, and it involved a Church official, which somehow made it worse.

  5. I thank you for this post. It says a lot of what I feel but do not know how to express.
    I am blessed in a way: I have no television here, so I was spared the behavior of the TV channels. Their impact on our lives is so vast, I wish we would have a general (and civilized) discussion on their responsibility and our responses.

  6. I have no words to share re: this tragedy. Grief does that to me. My prayers, therefore, are silent as I lift up the myriad of thoughts and feelings in my heart. Angry? Yes, I am angry at what happened. I think anger is ok, but what isn’t ok is expressed anger because it leads to your aptly described “knee-jerk reactions”. It’s a lot harder to “unfurl our fists”, but that is exactly what we need to do. I pray we respond out of God’s own heart, not our emotional reaction.

  7. Anger at their gun laws yes, but such sorrow for the parents who will never see their children grow up. We do need a world with less anger. I assume that the gunman was angry at something. Here drivers often use their cars as an anger outlet with similar results, it’s just the weapon which is different.

  8. I have heard the news about Newtown and have banned TV news/radio news in our home for the next few days. The facts alone are hard to take in, without the repeated reminders and accompanying images that feed the horror. These most public and violent deaths are challenging to behold. I have two small children whom I am trying to raise, as any parent is, to understand the dangers of the world, but the images only serve to create more fear, and I don’t want fear in my home. In our home we pray for mothers and fathers who have lost their children, especially at this time of year when we prepare to welcome the Christ child, whose Father knew that his son would die a public and violent death.

  9. Sister, thank you for your forthright post. I think that you speak truly and from the heart.

    I can’t get angry over such an event as what has happened at Newton! Just trying to take in the horror and disbelief and the overwhelming sense of shame, that one human being could cause such harm to other, particularly the innocents in terms of the children.

    Anger seems inappropriate, disgust, and a total lack of comprehension seems more needed and a sense of how we can’t hope to understand what those families are going through and what the children who were killed or wounded must have felt.

    Offering prayers seems somehow so inadequate – but are perhaps our only resort. Perhaps this further horror, among the many in recent years, will finally spur the Gun lobby in the USA to retract and repent and take Guns out ot the hands of private citizens – I sincerely hope so.

    I can’t imagine living in a society where the gun is revered as being every ones right and part of their personal protection? Surely we can live alongside each other in peace, without weapons of such instant and destructive force?

    Having borne arms for my country, I can only say that I always believed that the Guns we carried were safer in the Armoury than in my hands – sure we needed them for our job, but I would say that I have a hearty dislike of them in any shape or form outside the hands of law enforcement or legitimate armed forces defending their country.

    • Thank you, Ernie, what you say is very true. It’s very difficult for us, with our memories of Dunblane, not to wonder at the American gun laws, but if the guns were taken away, would it actually reduce the desire to kill? I don’t know; but yes, pray we must!

  10. Salaam sister, I completely agree with you, the media shouldn’t have been anywhere near the children yesterday. It came across as very cold and they seemed to exploiting them in their most vulnerable situation.

    Thank you for sharing your thought-provoking article. I also read through many interesting comments beneath too.

    God bless,
    Sarita

    saritaagerman.blogspot.it

  11. The anger comes from a lack of love. Without love, it’s easier to ascribe differences of opinion to wicked motives, rather than an alternative, equally valid, reading of the same data. Admitting that someone we disagree with may be right and that we may be wrong is hard. It’s always easier to stick to our opinions and rubbish someone else’s. If we can’t fault their argument then we’ll just have to fault them instead. It’s because they’re *bad*. Or *uncaring*. Or *selfish*. It isn’t us. It’s never us.

    Love is difficult. That’s why so many people don’t do it. That’s why we must do it.

  12. Also, it’s very easy to be angry – it is an emotion that comes naturally to people as a rule. It is also an emotion that is difficult to question. Why shouldn’t people be angry about the events in Newtown? But the, having been angry, having been seen to have reacted “appropriately” it is also easy for people to put that away and let those feelings fail to spur them into action.
    Far, far better than anger would be a smouldering discontent with a society where that atrocity could take place. That would be a fuel for change in a way that anger isn’t. It wouldn’t lead to violence and hatred either, or not in the same way.
    Hope for a better world would be an even better fuel, of course, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves… Developing a solid hope and allowing it to spur us into action takes time, and effort, and in the “easy / now” society we seem to have today, that is even more counter-cultural than it appears, and, sadly, less likely to happen.
    Have a genuinely lovely Christmas song to help you mull it over: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6s25qJVER_U (via @robinince on Twitter)

    • Thank you, Richard. There are, of course, different kinds of anger, but I was focusing on one particular kind in my post, one that strikes me as very dangerous and destructive. Let’s pray that we can transform that anger energy into something for good.

  13. I heartily agree with the sentiment of this piece. The sad irony is that the open-access social media channels which allow you to share this message with the world – and allow me to comment – are the same channels so often used to spread anger and hate. Keep on sharing the light.

  14. I am in complete agreement that the young children needed shielding from the intrusions of reporters. As a society we are losing sight of what it means to “protect” our children.

    I appreciate your balanced and thoughtful remarks this morning.

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