How do you feel?
No, this isn’t a geeky 80’s Star Trek IV reference. (Or at least it isn’t ONLY a geeky 80’s Star Trek IV reference.)
I don’t have to tell you the world is changing. I don’t have to tell you that opinions in our country are polarized, full of outrage and disdain. I don’t have to tell you that politicians and the media both encourage and feed that outrage in their efforts to manipulate us, either for votes and money or attention and money.
But how do you feel?
We’ve all seen the clickbait articles on social media. The ones that either gross us out or make us angry and self-righteous, so angry in fact that we don’t even resist clicking the link so we can feed our outrage. “You won’t believe what their candidate did to this puppy - and got away with it!” Nine times out of ten the article is either a total disappointment that doesn’t live up to the headline, or else we realize it is satire or even totally made up.
And yet we don’t stop clicking.
The pundits and politicians are trying VERY VERY hard to teach us that outrage feels good. They tell us that outrage is motivating. They tell us our outrage is proof of what a good person we are. They tell us that no decent and intelligent human could fail to feel outraged over how crazy the world has gotten.
And we want to be motivated. We want to be a good person. We want to be decent and intelligent. And after years and years of getting bombarded with these arguments, we start climbing on board the outrage train.
But, how do you feel?
You aren't a newly resurrected Spock, and yet many of us are just as confused as he was by this question.
Where does the anger sit in your body? Does the outrage help you sleep better? Does the time you spend arguing with your high school friend’s wife’s uncle on Facebook feel like time well spent? When you see your anger-fueled snarky comments the next day, do you feel proud and inspired? Are the hurt feelings and damaged or lost relationships worth it when nothing changes? Who is the person you want to be when you don’t get your way?
THE BIG LIE
I know some of you are hanging on to the idea that these feelings do help you. That they are a necessary evil because they motivate you to try to change the world for the better. That even though they make you crazy, at least you are being true to what you believe in and are advocating for your principles.
But, and I’m going to jump into the 90's and do my best Morpheus imitation here, what if I told you that you did not have to feel outraged in order to accomplish any of those things?
What if I told you that you could fight injustice and stand up for freedom and acknowledge problems and pick sides and still feel happy and motivated and invigorated the whole time?
Outrage is a pathway to action. But it is not the only path.
Outrage can be mentally and physically exhausting. It can trick you into making generalizations and to oversimplify reality and to assume the worst of those who may disagree with you. It can isolate and further distance you from the very people you most want to influence for change.
Outrage wears you down and can literally make you sick. When we let ourselves get so angry and afraid that we can barely see straight, it is an activation of our sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “fight or flight” response. I won’t nurse out on you too bad here, but this cascade releases hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol into our bodies. This is great news if you are calmly walking down the street and a bear or a clown jumps out of the bushes and you need to run the heck away before you get eaten. But the chronic activation of these hormones due to ongoing and never-ending stress results in an array of negative health outcomes, leading to poor sleep, weight gain, anxiety and depression, impaired immune function, and increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The clickbait title here would be simple. “Warning: your outrage is making you fat!”
THE GOOD NEWS
We tell ourselves that our outrage is punishing the thing/person/injustice we are mad about. But it isn't. They can't feel your outrage. They don't feel your anger and your tears. But you know who does? You do. You aren't punishing anyone but yourself.
The good news here is that you have a choice. All you have to do is ask yourself two questions.
1. What do you want to accomplish in the world?
2. How do you want to feel while you are accomplishing it?
You can change the world and feel happy and inspired. You can recognize the bad things that happen in our world and yet feel excited because you are so awesome you are going to do something about it. You can talk with people who are hypocrites and liars and feel invigorated because you are being challenged to improve your debating skills while practicing being able to stay calm and extending them an offer to maybe see things a little differently.
If you feel lost and hopeless, it is just because you haven’t yet given yourself a goal. Once you decide what you want, you will start seeing lots of options on what you can do to get there. Next, make sure you are picking the path that is going to best allow you to feel the way you want to feel.
Your feelings are always your choice. No one comes along and injects you with a big syringe of emotion that you are obligated to feel. You get to decide on how you want to see the world and what you make it mean and how you want to experience it.
They are not the boss of your feelings. You are. Choose wisely.
YOU ARE THE BOSS OF YOU
Decide who you want to be. Decide if you want to be beat down and afraid, or if you want to find a way to feel hope again.
Ben Franklin said it best: Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.
If you aren’t ready yet to give up on what you are feeling today - and I can't emphasize this enough - that is totally fine! You will get no feeling-shaming from me. All of your emotions are natural and normal and you have every right to feel them fully for as long as you want.
All I’m offering is a reminder that you are not a slave to them. You are not trapped. You are not stuck. You can honor the feelings you have, and you can also look for ways to feel better at the same time.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.
OK, that was totally a geeky 80’s Ferris Bueller reference. And I stand by it.
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