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Awareness and outrage

I've been thinking about outrage. Outrage is fun! It must be. Otherwise, why do I engage in it? (I just noticed that I even have a tag for it.)

If you feel strong, check out the search term "political outrage" in Google image search, and note your physical reaction. For me, it's a concentrated dose of what the rest of this post is about.

Why do I seek out opportunities to be annoyed, indignant, judgmental, critical or angry? Why, when it goes against my principles and my beliefs, do I read what trolls have to say? Why does my Twitter timeline include anyone who's pissed off all the time (and why do I ever tweet about things like bad customer service)? Why do I click on Buzzfeed article links? Why do I ever go to Facebook, ever?

I'm beginning to think it's an actual addiction. Outrage gives me a little rush, a little reward. If I pay attention, I can feel it--a drop of dopamine in the bloodstream cocktail, a touch of stress-relief.

The trouble is, the stress has to come first: there's no need for indignation if something doesn't activate fight-or-flight in the first place. For instance, if I'm terrified by an article about the hit-and-run killing of a bike-rider, outrage makes my fear tolerable. I already ride as safely as I can and there's not a fucking thing I can do about the dead bicyclist or the cowardly driver, so what's left? Outrage, that's what. It's soothing.

But is that soothed feeling so compelling that I'm actually seeking out the stressor first? Am I causing myself pain in order to get the painkiller?

Over the years, I've built a cushion around my hair-trigger trauma response, and it has saved my life. I can't afford to erode it with voluntary exposure to things that I know will outrage me. But it's surprisingly hard to quit. Sure, it's better to be in a habitual state of grace, but a hit of outrage is so much easier to score, you know? It's like a sugar rush compared to the long-term health benefits of vegetables and exercise.

I don't think total ignorance in the name of self-care is the answer, either. I'd be a bad citizen and a poor member of the human tribe if I tried to abstain completely from all potentially triggering information and ideas. There are always new issues, new points of view, and a shifting social landscape to be aware of. At a minimum, I'd like to avoid being part of the problem, even if I can't solve it.

But I do need to take care of myself first. Recognizing that my tolerance for activation is extremely low, I have to notice triggers and take action before I fall into the outrage response:
  • Stop reading
  • Close that tab
  • Walk away
  • Delete before posting
  • Don't start writing that comment in the first place
  • Don't stop to gawk
  • Turn to something else (like funny Youtube videos)
  • Respect myself and my limits
  • Know when feeling cowardly now is going to prevent feeling crazy later and be okay with that
  • Unfollow this person
  • Heed that gut feeling
  • Pay attention
  • Take care of myself

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 10th, 2014 09:41 am (UTC)
I do not seek out opportunities to be outraged; in fact, I carefully avoid them. I know what upsets me and try to keep clear. Maybe you've become stronger and know instinctively that you can deal better with certain things now? For me, I've almost accepted that there are some things I'll never be able to cope with and that it doesn't do any good to resist that.
Feb. 11th, 2014 02:48 am (UTC)
I've noticed finer and finer gradations of the addiction in myself. I'd have said that I don't seek opportunities to be outraged either, but I've observed that I jump on chances to be critical, for instance, or sarcastic, or disdainful, and I can place those on a continuum with outrage in my own biochemistry of satisfaction.

A snarky sigh while reading a piece of badly-written fanfic might lie at the mild end of the spectrum, while gasping, powerless rage might be at the opposite end, but I can sense a connecting thread, one which I can't yet quite articulate.

Self-acceptance--including acceptance of limitations--is so important. There's what I can't cope with (very clear to me, and I've long since learned to avoid it), and then there's what I can, but probably shouldn't try to, cope with; beyond that, there are all these subtleties of minor negative emotions that are like sweeping up the dust. I feel like I'm working with the fine granules now.
Feb. 10th, 2014 11:10 am (UTC)
Your triggers list makes sense to me, and reminds me of the kind of thinking that made me cancel my Time Magazine subscription. Not that I don't want to be informed, but not that way!
Feb. 11th, 2014 03:46 am (UTC)
Staying informed without being triggered is a tricky task! I've noticed that in the years since I made the conscious choice to avoid advertising and news, I'm still perfectly able to converse with other people, make valid decisions, and carry on--although it's true that I haven't seen the latest TV commercials for so long that I'm decidedly out of touch with that aspect of popular culture).

Back before the internet really got going, I realized that headlines on display in newsstands (remember those?) would give me the day's main bullet-points. As Paul Simon said, "I get the news I need from the weather report." A spiritual teacher of mine had a favorite affirmation which I found useful and true long before mobile internet: "Everything I need to know comes to me in the right time, place, and order for the highest good of all concerned." It's even more true now.

I have a friend here on the West Coast who confessed to being deeply anxious about Fukushima and radiation. That's the kind of news that, as far as I'm concerned, is completely useless. Disasters, catastrophic events--as a part of humanity, I suppose I need to know about the biggies, but the moment I start to let a hurricane in the Caribbean spoil a perfectly gorgeous autumn day in the Pacific Northwest, I'm not helping, I'm just making one thing worse. If I can donate money appropriately, I do. I'm not able to go pitch in personally. I can "think good thoughts" and "keep Haiti in my prayers". I can care. But the best thing I can actually do is live fully.

So yeah. Informed, but not unduly affected by the information: seems to be a healthy strategy.
Feb. 10th, 2014 11:24 am (UTC)
... It wasn't Time's content that bothered me so much as my own bothersome addiction to it ... I seemed unable to put the magazine down without reading it cover to cover and finally decided my only reasonable option was to cancel my subscription ...
Feb. 11th, 2014 03:47 am (UTC)
I totally understand that. I feel the same way about certain blogs, and have to tear myself away.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )



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