Book excerpt: The Wide World of Anger

Note: This is an excerpt from We Need to Talk, my book in progress, which examines the polarization ripping apart our society and shares my personal search for an appropriate Christian response. For an overview of the book and to read my previous excerpts, link HERE.

One of the biggest factors underlying today’s extreme polarization is the bottomless pit of seething resentment and rage running through our society like hot lava.

I mentioned in a previous post that many people I encounter these days seem more cranky and defensive than they used to be, and some seem to be spoiling for a fight. We have Road Rage, Airport Rage, Parking Lot Rage and Starbucks Rage. We have Climate Wars, Health Care Wars, Class Wars, Mommy Wars and even Worship Wars. We spew our in-your-face venom onto everything from t-shirts, lapel pins and bumper stickers to coffee cups, refrigerator magnets and doormats like this one sold at Amazon.com:

“The easiest thing you’ll do all day is get ticked off at something,” Jeffrey Kluger writes in a Time magazine article titled America’s Anger Is Out of Control (link HERE). “Someone cuts ahead of you in traffic? Ticked off. Guy in front of you at Starbucks needs his entire order remade because his mocha half-caf, double frap had the wrong frigging number of espresso shots in it even though you know full well nobody can taste the bloody difference? Exceedingly ticked off. We’re all that way – and that’s a problem. Anger is … quick, it’s binary, it’s delicious. And more and more, we’re gorging on it.” 

The gratuitously nasty responses to a popular bumper sticker handed out by school districts offer a perfect illustration of this free-floating over-the-top anger. Personally, I think proud of my honor student bumper stickers are a nice way for schools to show appreciation to hardworking students and promote academic achievement. But apparently some folks beg to differ, judging from their own bumper stickers. My kid beat up your honor student and my kid got your honor student pregnant are just a couple of the snarky “statements” that leave me shaking my head. Good grief! If we don’t want our young people using drugs, joining gangs or making other unfortunate choices, why the hostility toward kids who are doing something right?

Lloyd Vries at CBS News (link HERE) shares, “A reader wrote to me, ‘Just do the country a favor and shoot yourself.’ … How angry does someone have to be to write something like that? And ‘Mr. Go Shoot Yourself’ is not atypical. Surf the Internet for a second or two, and you’ll see the venom pouring out from those who verbally attack each other.” At my computer I type the words, “Why is everyone so angry?” The Google search yields nearly 150,000 entries and an inescapable conclusion: Vries is correct. There sure are a lot of angry people out there.

A short browse through just a few of the 150,000 entries reveals that the population of folks gorging on anger isn’t limited to the U.S.

The British are vexed about Brexit, among other things. Some display their fury in ways that rival their U.S. counterparts on the rage-o-meter, according toan article for The Daily Telegraph in London (Short-Fuse Britain: Why is Everyone So Bloody Angry? – link HERE). Judith Woods writes, “Last weekend, my children and I were nearly knocked into the canal by a cyclist incandescent with rage that I was walking by the canal. He was followed by a peleton of similarly rude men in a tearing hurry who refused to give way to pedestrians, as they are supposed to. I was sorely tempted to lie across the path in a gesture of defiance, but I couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t have pedaled straight over me, leaving cartoon tyre marks, so instead I shouted at them. Of course I did: I’m as cross as everyone else.” 

What do people get cracked about in Australia? Blogger Jacqueline Lunn (link HERE) relates: “In the space of a week I’ve seen people get twitchy at each other as they wait in the line for ice cream. I’ve seen scenes of obvious, quite nasty, frustration due to an elderly man exiting a bus. I’ve watched three grown men, not one but three, push past my 10-year-old daughter to be served before her at the counter. Brows furrowed, on a mission, about to snap. Her older sister had to stand with her so pushing past was thwarted. I’ve completely cracked it because the dishwasher wasn’t unpacked when I’ve come home from work. Cracked like an egg rolling off a benchtop.” 

In a feature article on the Web site Modern Ghana (link HERE), Nicholas Ameyaw-Akumfi recites a litany of angsty issues that will sound familiar to most Americans. “Why are people so angry these days?” he asks.“It seems as though everything challenging in life is hitting them faster and from every direction. Changes in technologies and communications have caused their lives to move faster. Unemployment prevails as the cost of living keeps rising. Sleep doesn’t come as easy as it used to.” His account of how Ghanaians respond will sound familiar as well: “A spilled cup of coffee in the morning can ruin the better portion of a person’s day and a ringing telephone or barking dog can set their nerves on edge.” 

Meanwhile in India: “How have rage and vitriol become so addictive?” asks blogger Manika Raikwar Ahirwal, managing editor for that country’s NDTV (link HERE). “We need our daily dose of rant. And if it’s angry and full of abuse, even better. … In this new world of hatred, your mission, if you so choose, is to destroy without prejudice. Anything, everything is fair game. We will target you and by association anything we can get our hands on.” 

As my husband would say, “Ay, covfefe!” And to think some of us here in the good ol’ U.S.A. thought we might be able to escape from our own Fury Festival by fleeing to another country …

All this frenzy calls to mind the parable of the boiled frog – a cautionary tale most of us will hear sooner or later if we attend enough business conferences or stress management seminars. The storyline goes like this: If a frog is suddenly tossed into a kettle of boiling water, it will jump out and save itself from impending death. But if the frog is happily swimming around in lukewarm water, with the temperature turned up gradually, it will not perceive danger and will be cooked to death. 

Turns out the boiled frog story may actually be nothing more than an urban legend. In reality, say some experts, the frog will be smart enough to hop out of the water in the nick of time, no matter how slowly one turns up the heat. I’m left wondering, however, whether we humans will be so sensible.

Questions for readers: What factors do you see leading to so much anger? If you live outside the U.S., is there similar anger and polarization going on your country? I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, as well as your comments on this article. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below. When responding, please keep in mind the guidelines I’ve outlined on my Rules of Engagement page (link HERE).

21 thoughts on “Book excerpt: The Wide World of Anger

  1. “Grown men, not one but three, push past my 10-year-old daughter to be served before her at the counter.”

    Wow: reminds me of an experience I had in Athens with some other English teachers – I ceded my place in line to an elderly gentleman, and a British teacher told me that a Greek person would never do that, yet this was what I imagined that we have all been taught to do, as those grown men must surely have known that their actions were what one is not supposed to do.

    I think another reader commented here that the increased levels of contempt, which I think started with the show “The Weakest Link,” or perhaps with Ronald Reagan’s phrase “there you go again,” during his first campaign, has built up to allow and normalize uncivil behavior rather than the civility and graciousness that I was taught to show as a kid, growing up in the 70s.

    How do we come to agree that civility and graciousness are viable and important virtues, again (if we ever really did…)?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My perception would be that the simmering anger is a result of the U.S. turning further and further from God. Obviously there are many exceptions to this and many people that still love and serve Him wholeheartedly, but I mean the pattern as a whole of trying to remove God from everything. It reminds me of near the very beginning of time, the contrast between Cain and Abel. Abel had the heart of a true worshiper, and Cain did not. Rage popped up way back then at such an early junction of history, which surprises me sometimes, so close to the time when Adam and Eve walked openly with God in Eden.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. GREAT question! I’ve been wondering that myself. Watching the visceral rage and contempt on television left me quite ill. We see a blatant disregard for anything other than our way everywhere. People are walking over people like they do not even exist. But that’s not the whole picture. Being raised by rageaholics, I watch the meltdown of adults due to lack of control as to how their own lives were going. If something happened in one place, that button was pushed and everyone suffered. Many no longer feel that they have any control of their own existence so they erupt at the nearest target. Many are being raised to feel entitled to push others out of the way and be self serving. I think we’ve lost a lot of realization that we are all in this together and we need to reach out a hand to uplift. It seems to start with being heard. Nothing made me “crazier” than not being “heard.” I’m not a Christian in the traditional sense of the word so I’m not sure how to answer this question in that way. I just know that I have learned to express on paper what should never go flying out into the world because 5 minutes after I write, the frustration has evaporated. Doing something for someone else always is the first line of defense against rage.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Grief is much less acceptable than anger in our culture. I think if we had the chance to communally lament we would see how much we have in common. Sadly at the moment rage seems to unite us. Kids who hurt sometimes act out to make a connection with a parent or teacher. Perhaps we are doing the same thing with the same bad results.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I was just thinking this same thing during the Christmas season this year! The Psalms are full of “lament” and the Bible even has an entire book called Lamentations. And yet our culture doesn’t really allow for this. We’re firmly told to “buck up, buttercup” and stop the “pity party.” I often wonder if there would be a lot less vitriol if there were more room to express the sad emotions in our culture.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Absolutely. Anger so often just is a cover for grief. After all even Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” So we can look to Him for permission to grieve.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. A great post, as usual. Emotions are extremely complex, and they are often intertwined. What sometimes masquerades as anger, is actually fear. However, many people, especially men, are more comfortable expressing ‘anger,’ than they are admitting fear. We are watching the situation in your great, beloved country with concern. Our prayer is for peace and unity. 🤗⚘🌼

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Interesting you should tackle it from this perspective. The anger is real. I’ve been asking for a few years now: “Is this the country I grew up in?” I’d say no, that there has been a degradation of standards. People will do things they wouldn’t have done 50 years ago. For a large segment of the population, hope is gone. I don’t see the optimism our generation had. I see the anger stemming from a loss of control. People are not self determinant. When you are in charge and things go wrong, you can blame yourself. But we’re not in charge now. Anyway, great question.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Ay, covfefe! He’s probably right. I think in our short history as a country we have always been fighting battles. It’s in our nature to fight. First for our independence from the crown, then against each other in a bloody civil war. We fought about who could vote and now we are fighting about whether certain votes should even be counted. We survived those battles. Heaven help us, we’ll survive this battle too. Ay, covfefe! Great read Debi!!

    Liked by 3 people

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