Seated at the Table of Outrage



I just saw a thing on Facebook, as I was scrolling through my feed the way we do. It was written by the woman who birthed my two older children, a midwife of babies and other soul things. I usually listen when she speaks. She said, when people look back at this era she believes they will remember it for our tendency to outrage. They will remember us for being thin-skinned and quick to feel offense. Just think, she said, if we could take any part of the energy we put into spite and vitriol, and move it into trying to care for one another … ?

I find myself drifting towards quiet lately. It’s been months since I even tried to tackle an “issue” post. My Twitter feed is getting thin, maybe even mechanical. I hardly risk inserting my opinion on anything that counts as a public issue.

It isn’t that I find any less occasion for concern, or outrage … or holy grief. I just don’t have as clear a picture, what it looks like, to authentically engage. It feels like any button I press is a pressure point, any words I contribute are contributions to some grand piece of dramatic theatre, which just as likely masks the call to action as reveals it. It feels like all the options I have are to egg on one combatant or another in a great coliseum sport we call the public square.

Now you should know, this is a thing about me, that I was raised close to the fringes of society. I have taken in a bit of what you might call conspiracy theory. Maybe that’s what gives me now the perspective I have. To me, it looks like such a nasty trick. Just another numbing agent for us to swallow, all this dramatic indignation: another drug that takes away the pain. Here’s a small dose, a personal offense, taken like an Ibuprofen to lose a nagging guilt. Here’s a bigger dose, like the all consuming collective rage when SOMEBODY HAS DONE SOMETHING WRONG ON THE INTERNET, taken to get you away from your whole broken life for a while.

Numbing agents are kind of the name of the game these days.

If it were my assessment, I would call our era the age of spectacle. Great dramas unfolding RIGHT NOW before our eyes, in the amphitheaters of Buzzfeed and CNN. If it were my assessment, I would call our era the age of numbness, in which our skins have grown so thick against suffering that it takes an outrage to rise above the clang of normal.

It’s a dangerous business, having access to as much knowledge as we do, in a world as full of suffering as ours. Horrible things happening all around us, and we have to pick which ones to go crazy about. No wonder we pick the easiest ones. No wonder we sit on our real desperation, our real heartsick concern, our real experience of instability and lack of options, and channel it all into a ferocious Facebook post about celebrity baby names, or something else equally out of our control.

But how to shift? How to turn the tables back? In a world where it is normal to run on complete emotional overload, is it possible to come to rest again, and hear the still, small voice?

Who has the courage?

It’s hard to justify not joining the clamor over every single wave of rage, every single issue that becomes the issue of the day. They are such true horrors. But our whole planet is darkened, we knew that already. We can’t afford to forget that we are capable of action.

Where is your action? I’m trying to look close: neighbors I care about, family that needs me. I’ve witnessed, recently, very powerfully, the extension of this kind of relationship to the global scale. We—humans in general and SheLovelys in particular—do well in the world not by multiplying and extending our outrage, but by multiplying and extending our relationships. 

This world gives the open heart such a to-do list. It always has, and this era has its own particular quality of overwhelm. But wouldn’t the darkness love it if we all sat back and yelled a lot about everything, and then were so distracted and confused we couldn’t stand for right in our own spaces, our own families, our workplaces, our own lives? Wouldn’t the darkness just love it if we were so busy waving our hands over our heads, we couldn’t grab on and hold to the person standing right beside us?

The voice of suffering is loud, but the voice of compassion is quiet. That voice emerges in the restfulness of faith, and in the patience of clinging on to hope. It’s harder now. I know. There is so much reason to give up. But even at the table of outrage, there is someone sitting next to you. Turn and see.

If we could take any part of the energy we spend on outrage, and turn it into caring for one another … ? What then?