“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”—Ernest Hemingway
You would have to be pretty thick to overlook the fact that civil, reasonable discourse is now the exception rather than the rule.
Blame, contempt, and self-righteous indignation have become commonplace in public and private discourse. Sadly, this trifecta has become the response of choice to just about any difference of opinion that arises these days.
“You’re a pathetic loser if you support such and such.”
“I’ve done nothing wrong. He is to blame!”
“Anyone who believes so and so is an idiot and the cause of all of our problems!”
It’s easy to understand why this wicked cocktail is the drink of choice these days when you dig into the psychology behind it.
Blame, contempt, and self-righteous indignation are widely recognized in psychology circles as defenses against shame. They serve as barriers against unconscious feelings of imperfection, failure, ugliness, or damage by projecting those feelings into someone else who must bear them.
Nowadays people are outraged by just about everything under the sun. Outrage is the new drug of choice, a drug that numbs—at least temporarily—the discomfort associated with shame.
A couple of hits of outrage boost our self-esteem. We put others down and feel superior in the process. It has become the new normal.
Outrage, outrage everywhere.
Those who tire of the constant inflammation of relatively mundane or even false news engage in their own brand of self-righteous indignation, and the cycle continues. They are a part of the problem.
Offense given, offense taken. Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows. The trouble is that regular self-righteous indignation over trivial matters and outright falsehoods drowns out the truly horrific matters and genuine victims that legitimately merit our concern.
Victimhood is in vogue. We’re all victims of something these days, and we love the attention that overreaction garners. It’s like we’ve regressed to being 2 year olds throwing a fit on the floor when we don’t get what we want or when others don’t agree with our every thought.
The trouble is that this approach doesn’t fix anything, ever. It constrains to tribulation and misery. Always has. Always will.
So how do you break this cycle?
If you are genuinely desirous of repairing this broken condition, you have the power to change it, one interaction at a time. You cannot necessarily change others, but you can accept responsibility for your own response in a new way. You can tell the ill things in your world, “the buck stops here.”
Rather than blame, resort to empathy. Listen. Seek to understand the other side’s motivations. Stand beside them and look at it as they do.
Recognize the futility of contempt. Has the hatred of others ever inspired you or anyone to magnanimity, generosity, or humility? Unlikely. Contempt and hatred destroy the symmetry of life.
Finally, save your indignation for things that truly matter. Stop crying wolf. The sky isn’t falling just because someone sees something differently than you do.
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