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Are You Outraged?

Are you outraged?   It seems as if everyone is outraged these days.  We are at each other’s collective throats, hurling insults and other vindictive rhetoric at the other side, whomever the “other side” is.

I recently came across an article about “outrage culture,” the phenomenon, especially in online areas of discussion, to become outraged at … well, anything and everything, it seems.  Wherever you turn, people are outraged.

The author of that article was obviously a Taylor Swift fan, as she used Ms. Swift in two of the examples cited.  Apparently, Ms. Swift’s latest faux pas was that she “snubbed” Celine Dion at this year’s Grammy Awards.  I did not witness this event because, as my children are so quick to remind me, I am old and out of touch with pop culture.  Also, I am only tangentially aware of Ms. Swift’s music, although I do know that I will never, ever, ever, get that song out of my head (and I mean never!).

Perhaps Ms. Swift was “rude” to Ms. Dion.  I do not know.  What I do know is that a little rudeness does not rise to the level of a major injustice.  However, in this modern era of social media, people seem to believe that they must pronounce judgment for or against Ms. Swift, taking one side or the other, and express their outrage toward people who see things differently.

In the early 1970s, British social psychologist Henri Tajfel explored a phenomenon he called the “minimal group paradigm.” The basic idea behind this concept was to investigate the minimal conditions required for discrimination to occur within groups.  What he found was that people tend to favor a group bias, even if the categories are insignificant (eye color, taste in art, even the flip of a coin).  Even more surprising, he found that people would tend to maximize the benefits for their group, regardless of how that group had been defined.  As it turns out, it doesn’t matter how you define “us” and “them”, as long as you have an “us” and “them”.

Lately, I’ve noticed this “us” and “them” mentality being taken to silly extremes by Corporate America.  On a box of Pebbles cereal, the manufacturer asked if you were a part of “Team Fruity” or “Team Chocolatey”.  Even better, the candy bar Twix has now started labeling “left” and “right” sticks of their candy — “Team Left” vs. “Team Right”.  Admittedly, I don’t have the most refined palate, but I’m pretty sure they’re both equally tasty.

These marketing schemes are ultimately harmless, but they point to Tajfel’s deeper discovery, which demonstrates a human weakness that can, and has been, exploited.  There have been many times in history where the “Us vs. Them” mentality has been used by people in power to divide and control.  Most famously, Adolf Hitler, in his attempt to create the perfect Aryan race, tried to rid the world of “undesirables.”  He killed 11 million people, of which 6 million were famously Jews.  However, that left 5 million more “undesirables”, which consisted of Gypsies, Poles and other Slavs, political dissidents, dissenting clergy, physically and mentally disabled, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and pretty much anybody else considered unfit for society.  Heaven forbid if you were deemed to be undesirable.  It is not difficult to see how this mentality can easily sow fear and suspicion amongst people who would otherwise be unaware of unimportant differences.

Biblical discussions about anger are usually quick to point out that it’s no sin be angry.  Indeed, this is true.  After all, Jesus got angry at the money-changers in the temple.  Also, there are myriad examples in the Old Testament where God was angry with the Israelites, even to the point of punishing them by putting them to death.  However, we should note that the examples of God’s anger (both Father and Son) show that Their anger was righteous anger — they were angry at man for justifiable reasons.  Likewise, we should ensure that our anger is directed toward righteous reasons.  There are many things we may disagree with that are simply not worth the time taken to address.  You may think that Taylor Swift is the rudest, least talented musician around, but I’m pretty sure there are thousands of Taylor Swift fans who simply don’t care.  Is that really the hill you wish to die on?

Eph 4:26-27   BE ANGRY, and yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger,  and do not give the devil an opportunity.

Paul warns us that our anger should be temporary, so that we do not give the devil an opportunity.  What opportunity would that be?  Anger, being an intense emotion, can easily lead to poor judgment, so that, even though the anger itself is not wrong, it may be the catalyst for evil.

Eccl 7:9  Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools.

Jas 1:19-20  This you know, my beloved brethren.  But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;  for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

Before we speak (or post), T.H.I.N.K.:

Is it…

  • True ?
  • Helpful ?
  • Inspiring ?
  • Necessary ?
  • Kind ?

-  Phil Parker