Outrage has replaced action. Twenty children are shot in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and we are flooded with images, photographs, pleas for sanity. We light candles, bring out stuffed animals to pile up, photograph the “memorial,” post it on Instagram (#outrage, #tears #neveragain), and . . . well, forget it so we can move on to the next outrage.
A 14-year-old boy builds a clock that his teacher thinks might be dangerous. She contacts authorities (haven’t we judged others for not doing that after some disaster? Don’t we see the interviews that say, after some massacre, “I never thought this could happen in our neighborhood”?) who arrest him. We are outraged and the offer him opportunities, scholarships, trips. The boy is supposed to forget the real point: analytical thinking, asking lots of questions and good communication could have made this a non-event.
Outrage masks action. We are doing something, aren’t we? Aren’t we posting and un-friending those who don’t agree, and inventing more and more clever hashtags, and lighting candles (sometimes on virtual sites so we can see who else is lighting candles) and sharing videos of all this tragedy?
Just as we mistake “friends” on FB for actual friendships (much messier, more time consuming and hashtag-free) we mistake outrage for creating change.
Outrage has become our emotional addiction. We can express all our confusion, anger, frustration, and helplessness, feel the adrenaline charge, then go back to binge-watching “Orange is the New Black” without a trace of irony. Serial outrage makes us feel involved without sweating or getting our hands dirty.
We are becoming a nation of online adrenaline junkies. We are mainlining tragedy, feeling a rush of gratitude that it wasn’t us, tossing out the smug warning #besafe! and moving on. We’ve done our part. Except we have not. Not by a long shot.
Social media has done a lot of good, no doubt. But only when it gives birth to thinking combined with action. Yes, that’s the hard part. It’s hard to choose effective action. We might offend someone. We will offend someone.
Outrage is ugly, so we keep our involvement to the adrenaline charge. Often, it isn’t clear what the right action is. And that, exactly, is the definition of a life well lived. We must struggle with decisions. We want things to be clear. Well defined. Black and white. But almost nothing worthwhile is that clear-cut. Life is messy, not only at the leading edge, but in the wake of decisions. We often have to stop and mop up the mess. Rethink. Change tactics, if not direction. That, too, is a part of a life well-lived.
We can expect trouble. Change is not going to come easy. You are not safe because you are not involved. In fact, complacency is the most dangerous space you can choose.
—Quinn McDonald is not willing to retire from a fraught world.