Reality Check: Manufacturing Outrage

We could choose to deliberately shield ourselves from the world. However, most of us don’t. Thus, we are exposed to news items, study results, and opinions that you’d almost suspect were designed to provoke outrage in any “reasonable person.”

One example is a regularly published study that compares salaries of top-paid CEOs to the salaries of the rest of us. In case you weren’t sure, the CEO salary is bigger. The story is often accompanied by the observation that the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and things just aren’t right. It’s an outrage.

What happens when you hear that? Here’s my guess:

your blood pressure rises; your heart beats faster; you feel angry or depressed; perhaps you think about how life could be with that kind of money. You may even stomp around! In other words, your whole behavioural system—physiology, feelings, thoughts, and actions—gets involved in the party.

What’s the result? You experience these disagreeable effects, then something else distracts you, and your outrage fades into the background—till the next outrage.

How was my guess? Completely off base for you? Or did it come pretty close to your reality?

Either way, some folks perceive that the story “makes” them outraged. As choice theory is largely about personal freedom, here’s a question: Do you have any choice in how you react?

Now, we could turn off the radio and TV, cancel the paper and disconnect the computer. But where’s the fun in that? We would miss a lot.

Here’s a different suggestion. When you hear something outrageous, instead of immediately responding with the reaction that the story is designed to elicit, step back a bit. Ask yourself a few things:

  • Does my outrage make anything better or worse? Does my outrage over a CEO making a gazillion dollars a year have any positive effect on my life or on the general state of society? Likely not. But it could have a negative effect on my mental or physical health.
  • Is comparing myself to others helpful? We are always either better off or worse off than someone else in some way. Such comparisons tend to lead to either smugness and self-satisfaction or anger and resentment. Is that helpful?

Instead of comparing yourself to others, you could compare where you are to your own standards. What do you want? What lifestyle? What money? What social interaction? If you want the lifestyle that goes with being a CEO, then pursue it. If not, what difference does someone else’s life make to you?

Of course, if you want to be outraged, go ahead! Use your freedom to be outraged by whatever you choose.

But if you find that your outrage is hurting and upsetting you; if you see only negative impacts on your life, then you don’t have to leap headfirst into someone else’s pet peeve or political statement.

Someone else’s “outrage” doesn’t have to outrage you. Choose for yourself what you find outrageous (or not.) Better yet, choose what you find inspiring and motivating.

What do you find outrageous? Inspiring? Motivating?

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