The Unifying Potential of Outrage
To begin with, I want to say that I love you. Each of you vibrant, beautiful, yearning, striving human beings who are alive in these wild times and whose eyes have somehow found their way to these words. I love you. I love you and I, too, feel what pivotal and precarious times we find ourselves in. It is from this heart-place that I offer these words in humble reflection of how I have been making sense and finding meaning in the wake of the recent uprising at our nation’s capitol.
It could be so easy to view this recent event through a lens of separation; to see those who stormed the capitol as fundamentally different than me. But I want to invite us into a different story, one that honors difference but also invites commonality. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, these times provide countless reasons for you to feel deeply disturbed and overwhelmed about where we find ourselves as a nation and a species. We are living in a moment of collective disillusionment and reckoning. Amidst such a moment, I believe that outrage may actually have the potential to weave us together as a people standing side-by-side against mounting existential threats beyond our individual control. The common slogan, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention” speaks to this possibility. If this outrage spans the political aisle, could it potentially unify rather than divide us?
Although it is true that what we do/how we act from this place of outrage does distinguish us (and to be clear, I’m in no way condoning the violent and disruptive actions of January 6th, 2021), when we focus more on the specifics of a given action than on the underlying emotional landscape from which it arose, we end up feeding the force of separation rather than that of empathy. I want to propose that it may be possible to both stand strong and clear in denouncing certain actions as unacceptable based on our implicit and explicit shared agreements around public safety and mutual respect, while simultaneously probing deeper below the surface of the specific action to show empathy and curiosity about what underlying emotions led to such behaviors. When we choose this second approach to chaos, we are choosing to feed connection rather than division.
Part of what I’m suggesting is that within our current socio-cultural-political-ecological-economic climate, outrage may be an instinctual and unifying force across political divides. What if we could see outrage as a reasonable response from the part of us who has learned to not fully trust the political elite to have our best interests in mind and also as an inutitive response from the terrified and disoriented animal within us who feels the changing climate in her bones and knows on some deep level that all is very far from right and safe in the human and ecological landscapes.
And so how can we allow this outrage (and the existential fear that sources it) to weave us back into relationship with one another rather than further divide us? How can we resist the temptation offered by the mainstream media and reinforced by the echo-chambers of our social media networks to continually confine ourselves and others within the binary categories of “us” and “them,” “good” and “bad,” “right” and wrong,” and ultimately “left” and “right” that fundamentally erodes the possibility of cultivating and tending a diverse and full spectrum of experience across the shared landscape of what it is to be human in these unprecedented times?
How can we choose to see the honor and dignity, humanity and even commonsense of those who feel outraged, even if how they choose to embody it is vastly different than how we would? How can we make room in our hearts for those who are hurting so deeply and feeling so desperate that they would attack the very foundations of our democracy? How can we see ourselves in the other, and believe that if we were them — with all of their accumulated experiences and beliefs, traumas and life lessons — that we, too, would act exactly as they do? How can we practice our own stated values of respect and dignity across identity in order to humanize these human others into people of inherent value and worth?
Because the truth of the matter is that what we have been doing for the past four years (and much longer) in response to the “other” side— judging and shaming, belittling and canceling— is clearly not working. The polarization of our nation is only escalating. Both sides feel misunderstoood and blamed. Resentment, hatred, and violence are growing. The upcoming inaugeration will likely reveal more agression, bigotry, and radicalism across our country. This is no way to live and our response matters and contributes to this escalation. If we truly hope to experience repair and harmony in our nation, then a new path must be forged, based upon reconnection and healing. As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
It is time for us to stand firmly upon our ethical ground of public safety and human decency while simultaneously offering love and compassion. It is time for us to “turn the other cheek” in order to deter escalation. It is time for us to trust the transformative power of love to help revolutionize the world. The first task of this revolutionary love must be to humanize one another again. Emotions don’t lie, and outrage is a compass point to what truly matters. We only become outraged when something very important feels threatened or at stake. So let’s start by honoring one another’s outrage as a shared invitation to honor what truly matters to each of us, what feels at stake in our lives, and what is worth protecting for ourselves, our loved ones, and the future ones. From this place of empathy, we may find that what feels threatened could very well be safeguarded in a different and more creative way than violence and force, which only make us more vulnerable over time.
If we hope to walk a truly revolutionary path toward a future world that can sustain life, then we can only get there on solid stepping stones. This means that at every step of the journey we must commit, and then recommit, to the ongoing labor of choosing repair and healing over separation and dehumanization. The truth of the matter is that the fracturization of our country is a far more existential threat in and of itself than any particular action or belief that one group may enact or hold. We are the people, and when divided, our power and visionary will is fundamentally compromised. It is well-known at this point that the strategy of divide and conquer ultimately benefits those with established power while eroding the grassroots efforts of the people as a unified force.
Although our social media algorithms promote outrage as a strategy for financial gain through shamelessly hijacking our limbic systems as a sure-fire way to capture and direct our attention (and attention means clicks, and clicks mean money), what if we could reclaim the force of outrage as ground for reconnection rather than division? Although outrage has been weaponized to further fracturize us as a people, all weapons are essentially tools, and so what if we could take back this weapon and utilize it as a tool for building emotional commonality? When we can drop down below the reactivity, socialization, and wounding to the deeper emotional landscape of the tenderness of being human in these intense and pivotal times, we find a wide-range of common emotions, including outrage. If we could re-purpose the force of this outrage from a weapon of separation to a tool of empathy, then outrage could bring us together rather than tear us apart. Although Audre Lorde warns us that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” I believe that this tool of outrage could fuel us to build a new communal house that eventually makes the master’s house obsolete, informed directly by the pain of separation to build a structure of belonging that offers access and means, warmth, light, and harmony for all.
In the past, we may have felt satisfied to stand upon moral high ground and denounce the “other” as uneducated or unethical, manipulated or selfish. But in the new era of our times, this approach will no longer meet our spiritual need for communion nor will it help us get where we need to go on the material plane. It is essential that we position ourselves instead upon equal ground to ask with genuine curiosity and care, what is it that has brought you to this place of outrage and distrust, and what are your needs left unmet? We must have the compassion to reflect, I see that you are upset — tell me about your fear and pain, and I will tell you mine. We must have the emotional capacity to seek out and build the common ground between us that will allow us to become human beings to one another again. We must use all opportunities, including the powerful force of outrage, as an invitation for unification. For it is only from this place, of choosing healing and love over separation and fear, that we may collectively chart a new path forward that rests upon solid and unified ground.