Recently, I had a friend tell me that they were feeling like there was no place in America where people weren’t angry, outraged, ready to explode about everything, sound off on anyone, especially on social media. Does this sound familiar to you, too? They told me that every time they looked at their social media feed, it felt as if our nation was in the midst of one massive meltdown and it was causing them to be anxious. Sound familiar? They went on to say that because of all of the anger online, they found themselves scrolling through negative post after negative post and after a while, after literally absorbing all that anger, angry comments began to feel deeply personal, and they started commenting angrily back, posting angry emojis on all sorts of things for which they really didn’t know anything about, didn’t really care and didn’t understand why they were even commenting. It just felt to them like someone had to say something.
“But is that someone supposed to be you?”, I asked them.
My friend went on to say, “Anne, what does it mean when I now spend the majority of my online experience engaging with people who post angry emojis…that isn’t me…I’m not an angry person, what is happening to me, to all of us, to make America so angry?”
I agree that it does seem like America is in the middle of a cultural madfest at least online, but as I told my friend, we would have to agree on a few things for online anger to remain America’s reality.
IF we agree that our online experience should be determined by what Meta (Facebook) and the Twitterverse deem important for us to know and that primarily is posts rooted in anger, then yes, America will remain angry. IF we blindly accept that the computer algorithms of media giants have our best interest at heart and that media companies who continue to pushing negative posts in our feed really do care about the mental health of our citizens, then yes, America will remain angry. IF we accept that the seedier side of our American political system is more important for us to read about than the hundreds of thousands of untold positive stories found all across this nation of people who fight for our rights and freedoms without using anger and vitriol, then yes, America will remain angry. IF we rubber stamp as valid every social media post and poster in our feed, because we aren’t one of “those people!”, then yes, America will remain angry. IF we ignore the fact that tabloid journalism is a very different kind of reporting, intentionally designed to provoke and incite, whereas factual journalism is designed to inform and insight, then yes America will remain ANGRY because there is a difference, a big difference between Incite and Insight!
Yes, I told my friend, I can see why America is angry, IF we blindly follow our social media feeds (as they are today) into the abyss and do nothing to change course.
But there is another way. An idea that is not new to us as Americans, in fact it was still being employed all over America (as recently as twenty years ago), both in email and in person, before social media became the dominant way Americans communicate with each other.
What was this magic anti-anger miracle? Well, it was simply this:
Americans used to push the PAUSE button before expressing anger with each other.
What is PAUSE you ask?
There was a time when it was the norm for Americans to take a deep breath, a PAUSE if you will, before outwardly expressing their anger when communicating in an email or in-person.
To PAUSE, even for a few moments, meant that we had taken the time to consider the people involved and the actions necessary to resolve a situation positively before getting angry. We were encouraged to choose the most useful communication tools/words that would result in a workable solution, and that was rarely, if ever, anger and we were all encouraged to remember to keep our egos in check to avoid unnecessary and unproductive angry confrontations.
Anger, except in the most egregious of situations, used to be seen as the communication strategy of last resort. People who were angry all the time were not viewed as icons or people we wanted to emulate and we most certainly weren’t filming people being angry, or promoting our anger in a reel or a video or a meme and assigning labels to it (Karen and Ken) or retweeting it around the world.
Anger was not taken lightly in America, it was something we respected, or at least we used to respect the power of it and used it sparingly in our communications.
And back then America faced a lot of the same problems we do today, like corruption, poverty and housing insecurity, economic and social injustices, war and famine, gender and racial inequality, dogs who bark all night long, spouses who cheat, kids who died by violence, it wasn’t a happy emoji world by any means. But instead of angry responses, we were encouraged to consider the lasting impact and value of our words and when having spirited debates, anger was not considered a constructive means of communication. Also, there wasn’t an angry emoji at our fingertips or algorithms that rewarded anger by pushing angry comments and posts into our lives 24/7, enticing us to join the angry fray.
Charles Speilberger, PHD, a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger, defines anger in his article, The Nature of Anger as “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.” He goes on to say that like other emotions, anger is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. (Source: Speilberger, PHD, The Nature of Anger, apa.org)
So what happens when Americans skip past the irritation phase Dr. Speilberger defines and every situation online becomes a match point for our collective fury? It’s as if we’ve run the outrage race, without running it.
It is no wonder my friend feels like she has woken up to a country intent on being disgruntled and tuned out to compromise. When we spend all of our online lives angry, when our online platforms encourage that behavior and reward us for it, it’s bound to spill over into other aspects of our daily lives, make us question our own sanity and leave us worn to a nub by being thrown unwittingly into this fast and most definitely furious, American dream.
But I believe each of us can change that narrative IF we adopt the PAUSE approach to anger, especially in our online interactions.
Look, you can’t solve America’s problems by yourself and most definitely not online. We need each other and we can’t build a coalition if we are angry with each other on social media. So, the first thing you need to do is cull your social media feed to what is mentally healthy for you. If websites and posts of friends and family you have in your feed make you angry, pull the plug on those sites. Trust me, nothing will happen to you. No one will come to your door wondering why you aren’t subscribing to those sites or posting to them. And truly, is it good for your mental health to be engaging angry family, friends and strangers, all day long?
The second thing you need to do is to let go of this idea that YOU are important online. You aren’t very important at all online, few people are. Check your ego and maybe pick one or two topics you are versed in, or want to learn about and that make you happy, and then remember to PAUSE before you comment on any post and try and keep your messaging positive and constructive when you must disagree. No one listens to someone who is yelling at them constantly and anger online is akin to yelling.
When you read posts that upset you, if you PAUSE and allow the anger process to do its thing, I can pretty much guarantee you that what used to make you angry will probably not even be on your radar, or might cause nothing more than a slight irritation. It’s not that you don’t care, it’s that you are training yourself to care about what is important in your life and what you can impact in a positive way. Be a light, not contribute to the darkness.
Lastly, most of us wouldn’t walk into a room demanding that everyone in it think like us and openly express anger at those who don’t. So why do you think it will work online? I mean has anyone ever truly changed their opinion because you called them a buffoon online? Anyone? I’m waiting….
Don’t be fooled into thinking that online anger is a powerful tool of change or that likes and follows of your angry posts are actually people who care about what you are angry about. Don’t believe me, just sit with any social media influencer and watch them scroll their online feeds, watch their thumbs clicking over and over and over again and then ask them what they are doing. They will tell you, “Oh, I’m reading and commenting on posts!” But it’s impossible to read hundreds of posts and truly engage with the subject matter…and they smile and say, “Yeah, but if I don’t “like” a certain number of posts, or post some sort of emoji, then my own profile falls victim to the algorithms and I find my content buried in the bowels of the internet and trust me, angry posts are the most commented on, so I’m clicking away!”
And there you have it my friends, what you are seeing in your social media feed is not this huge call to action for you to be angry, you are merely a pawn, feeding the social media algorithm beast, we all are and thus the reason we all need to push that PAUSE button on our anger online, cull our social media feeds of negative content and find sites and follow people who bring us joy.
Anger doesn’t look good on you, my friend. It doesn’t look good on me and it certainly doesn’t look good online. So let’s change that for America in 2022 and who knows, we might change the METAVERSE!
P.S. I am 100 percent fine if you like, follow and repost this blog, without the angry emoji, of course!