By Steven Norris
Why are you so mad? It’s a question that I ask my teenagers quite frequently. They are still learning to identify, understand, and regulate emotions. They’re teenagers, though, so the roller coaster of emotions related to life, school, and any number of other circumstances has become commonplace.
It seems, however, that the same question could rightly be asked on a broader scale. Our collective emotional state seems to be set on “low boil,” just waiting for the slightest nudge to send it erupting over the edge. In public conversations, it feels like anger and outrage is the norm rather than the exception — as if you aren’t actually entitled to an opinion if it is not accompanied by complete indignation.
Recently, I came across an interesting blog post from pastor Carey Nieuwhof entitled, “Why Do We Hate Each Other So Much? (5 Reasons Anger is the New Pandemic).” In it, he quoted the Russian novelist, philosopher, historian, and short story writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
The same could be said of anger and hatred — it cuts through the heart of each of us. Nieuwhof goes on to list five possible reasons behind the increased anger in much of our public discourse. We could summarize them as follows:
The impersonal nature of online activity often leads us to be more aggressive online than we are in person. The more distance we have between people (actual or perceived), the more desensitized we become to the humanity of others.
Furthermore, negative emotions tend to generate more responses than positive ones. For years, news outlets have learned to play on the fears and anxiety of their audience. This tendency is magnified in a world where the internet has given everyone a platform and public space is saturated with voices clamoring to be heard.
Despite the connection technology offers, many people experience a greater sense of disconnectedness and loneliness than ever before. Depression and anxiety rates are through the roof, and any attention can feel better than no attention.
Alerts, notifications, vibrations, and alarms regularly interrupt the stillness of any quiet moment we may be fortunate to find. Sorting through the deluge of data is a Herculean task. Sadly, we know enough to make the world feel like an incredibly dark place, and constant negative updates make us cynical and calloused.
So, what do we do about it? Scripture is clear that anger isn’t the same as sin. We read in Ephesians 4:26: “In your anger, do not sin…” We can feel anger and respond to it in ways that honor God and build God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Nieuwhof suggests four questions to ask ourselves before responding to that text or email, before posting on social media, or before picking up the phone:
- What’s my real motive? Am I trying to help, hurt, or just get noticed?
- Are people better off, or worse off, for having read what I posted?
- Am I calling out the worst in people, or attempting to bring out the best?
- If the person I’m writing to was in the room looking me in the eye, would I say the same thing in the same way?
Add to these the tools that we have as people of faith: prayer, godly counsel from fellow brothers and sisters, the reminders of scripture, and the filling/fruit of the Holy Spirit. Together, these make a powerful toolbox for living a different story as followers of the Prince of Peace.