Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Post #82: Is Outrage Overrated?

Lately, we've been on the topic of learning how to mind our own business, which means taking responsibility for our own lives and letting other people tend to theirs. This doesn't mean that we don't care, or that we are passive or aloof. It just means that we take the time to assess whether our involvement is desirable, and, if so, what action would be most beneficial. We don't just rush in and start telling people how we need them to change, because usually this just meets with resistance.

What about social and environmental action? Do we sit back and just allow things to happen that cause damage or maintain a dysfunctional status quo, just because they might not relate to us directly? Or do we get involved and fight for change? After all, what motivates us to spring into action more than reacting to what we perceive as injustice?

Okay, so that was a trick question, because I am here to argue that outrage is overrated. If we want to create a war scenario where we righteously attack "the bad guys" and in turn they find skillful and sneaky ways to counterattack us and undermine our efforts, then it works great to get upset and get in someone's face. But is that really the best use of our passion?

For me, and for a lot of people I know, the highest quality action springs from love, not outrage. I am motivated to pick up litter because I love nature and it makes me happy to do something nice for a beautiful park or mountainside. If I were angry and self-righteous about the garbage, it would take all the pleasure out of this act of service.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't get upset. It's normal to be upset. There's no judgment about that. I'm just saying that in my experience, love is a stronger, more effective, and more organizing force than outrage. Love allows us to take a deep breath, collect our thoughts and resources, and approach whomever we need to approach in a spirit of cooperation: "This is the problem I see. How can we work together to change it?"

Author Byron Katie suggests that some people fear that if they weren't fired up about an issue they would cease to take action to correct it. It's as if their anger is proof that they care about abused animals, or factory workers, or the environment, and that this anger is what fuels their efforts for change. (Katie argues that love is a more powerful motivator than anger could ever hope to be).

Personally, when I'm outraged, I notice that I don't think clearly. I tend to be overtaken by emotion. Sometimes I say or do something counterproductive. I might even alienate the very person who would have worked with me to create the change I wanted. When I'm upset, I don't pick up litter. I think to myself, "What kind of thoughtless people would leave this trash around? What's the use, anyway? They'll just be back again tomorrow!"

So, am I'm suggesting that you write love letters to the Offshore Oil Drilling Association? No. I'm just asking you to think through the likely outcome of launching an energetic attack, compared to approaching the issue in a peaceful and respectful manner. If you decide that vinegar is called for, that's fine. But know that honey is always an option.