Why Outrage Must Not Become the Next Rage …and Why Calling Must Be
UPDATED AS OF AUGUST 2020
This article was originally posted in July of 2019. It was true then. It’s even more true now.
With the changes and challenges brought by 2020, outrage has reached a new level of intensity. And without some unforeseen shift in our culture, it will continue to escalate over the next few months as we approach the election in November.
We thought this was the perfect time to revisit these thoughts from 2019. Enjoy.
Right now outrage is winning the day. But if outrage wins, we all lose.
Outrage isn’t new. For centuries people have felt a holy discontent, raged against the machine, stuck it to the man, and challenged the status quo. But turn on just about any news channel, engage in just about any serious conversation, or read almost any blog today and within 15 minutes someone will tell you what they are outraged about. Unfortunately, while outrage is good at hype, what our world really needs is hope. And hope does not come from outrage.
That doesn’t mean that outrage is unimportant. It is outrage that tells us that something isn’t right and has to change. As a Gen Xer who is continually tempted by cynicism, outrage has been a common part of my life. But mere outrage has also led to some of my biggest mistakes.
Outrage might stimulate a few endorphins and provide a temporary rush of adrenaline, but in the end it doesn’t actually change anything. In fact, most of the time it probably makes things worse.
At the end of every outrage is another person outraged by the outrage, and they rage back. Resistance changes the equation: it’s easy to be outraged until it causes you pain. Pushback makes passion look pathetic when it’s exposed as superficial excitement and the rager backs down.
When the person crashes at the end of the sugar rush of their mini-vendetta, they go from fired up to down in the dumps, because nothing changed. Is it any wonder that our society’s nihilism is growing at the pace of our outrage? This is what happens when people who believe things need to change don’t know how to change things.
There is another way, however: the way of calling, where outrage becomes courage. Your calling can be found where three crucial ingredients come together:
- Enduring passion that may be provoked by outrage but perseveres through the pain and pressure toward a creative end
- God-given, developed ability to make a specific sort of positive contribution to a situation
- Knowledge of the right context where your passion and ability find their best expression
Calling changes the question from “Why is this happening?” and “Who is to blame?” to “Does God have a role for me here?” It stops pointing the finger and instead points us toward being part of the solution.
So how do you move from outrage to courage? What are the steps to living a life that isn’t destined for depression? Those are big questions for one post, but I will share with you three discoveries that have helped me on my way.
1. Stop saying, “You should have done,” and start saying, “Thank you for.”
The longer I live, the more I have discovered that in everything that outrages me, someone else got outraged long before I did, and they went to work in it to turn the tide and sow the seeds of a better future. Sometimes their work of reform is what led to my outrage, and instead seeing the good they have done, I am only looking at the harm they have unintentionally caused or the problem they haven’t dealt with yet. Too often because of my own myopic focus on what needs to be reformed next, I have alienated those I should have recruited.
So start by looking for the good instead of only fixating on the bad. Allow gratitude to come alongside your outrage. Step out of the shadows of those who have gone before you and instead learn to stand on their shoulders. Not only will you win a hearing, you might just find that some of those you thought were your enemies will actually become your friends.
2. Embrace the pain yourself before exposing others.
Tolstoy famously said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” There might not be a more fitting word for this moment in history.
Tolstoy meant that in order to create the change we long to see, we must first locate the problem not just outside ourselves but within us. Where have we contributed to or engaged in what we are so good at pointing out in the lives of others? How can we empathize with those we stand so ready to accuse? Where must change happen in us before we are ready to create change outside of us?
3. Step up when others give up.
If there is anything I have learned from the schoolmaster of time it is that change doesn’t happen immediately. There are no overnight success stories, only “overnight successes” that are 20 years in the making. While the world tries to sell you a silver bullet, get used to a world where there are none.
The truth is that most people don’t fail—they just give up too soon. So find a community that will help you believe on the days you stop believing. And just when you are ready to give up, choose to step up again to the passion that drives you to the end of your strength. You might just find that what feels like the end of you is actually the beginning of what God wants to do through you.
In fact, this is often how outrage becomes courage. It is often when a person reaches the end of themselves in outrage that they truly gain clarity in their calling. Clarity produces confidence, and maintaining confidence under pressure is what courage is all about.