Our Obsession With Outrage and Being Triggered is Destroying Society

Hyperbole is the order of the day, “civil discussions” are characterised by yelling and name calling, and people are losing their lives – we need to stop with the outrage and being triggered.

Outrage and Being Triggered
Source: Evelyn Hockstein/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Many people will have seen the recent riots in Charlottesville. Truly a tragedy in the midst of what has already been a tumultuous year on the Earth. Where there is disagreement on views, unfortunately violence soon follows. In this case, the ugly shadow of racism looms large in the wake of these recent events.

I’m not a sociologist. I’m not a full-time student of international human rights. I don’t fully understand the motivations behind many of the marches and protests that take place in our global community. I’m not even an American. But from my vantage point, I can say this:

Our obsession with outrage and being triggered is destroying society.

Everything you read, watch, listen to or see demonstrated in society nowadays seems to be tainted by completely extreme reactions to things. I’ll take what seems to be a fairly trivial example and build from there.

Whilst the media has always been guilty of this, hyperbole is at an all-time high. On YouTube, one of the most popular relatively new genres of entertainment are reaction videos. You’ve seen them – someone opens a box that they received in the mail, someone’s playing a scary video game, a few people are commenting on other people’s comments to things. Reacting to things has always been a popular way to entertain – look at the exploits of Jon Stewart of Stephen Colbert over the years. However, with so many of the global community able to access such content in seconds from any location on the planet in the palm of their hands, the scope of their reach, and the level of competition between entertainers, has never been higher.

Reaction videos were initially hilarious or even inspirational because of their extreme hyperbole. The reactions were usually done so over the top that it would always illicit a laugh or a serious thought in the audience. Nowadays the level of reaction is so disproportionately huge to what’s happening – how many times do you really need to say OMG whilst opening the box for the new Sonic Mania game that pretty much just contains the disc and the artwork? – that the sensationalism is overwhelming.

Coupled with completely OTT reaction videos and commentaries was the rise of Clickbait. You won’t believe how the homeless man reacted when THIS happened! A woman walked into the bar, but then she was blown away by THIS! This this this this this this this. Every video or story was going to either make you ball your eyes out, or make your jaw drop to the floor so much so that the others in the room would mistake it for the exit. Internet content producers saw big numbers and consequentially big money, reflecting the power the extreme reactions produce within us.

Following on from these, we have an Internet community obsessed with being savage, spicy, or triggered. Triggered simply means you’ve completely flipped out in response to something, usually deemed to be quite a small something. Extreme cussing, name calling, fault finding, and inconsequential blasting of a target person or people group usually follows. I think one of the most commonly known instances of obsessive and super popular outrage was when a man explaining the good work the police had done in helping his daughter recover from heroine was confronted by a social justice warrior and labelled loudly and cuss-tastically for supposed sexual harrassment. “Hugh Mungus” was swiftly shouted down without remorse, and no reply was possible.

It seems that is no longer possible to have a civil discussion on a topic without outrage or being triggered. It seems to be the coolest thing ever. If you’re not triggered, you won’t get those spicy likes on social media, Australian politician Clive Palmer will be unlikely to share your material, and most likely no one will be persuaded by your point of view.

We live in a world of divergent beliefs. As a Christian and on a fairly conservative right wing of politics (although it’s super confusing as to what level of conservative or moderate or wing I am given the constant schisms between those of “similar views”), I certainly hold my fair share of views that many people will agree with, and many that people definitely won’t and don’t. If you’re a Muslim reader, an agnostic, a libertarian, or even someone who would consider those titles to be ones you relate to, chances are you and I wouldn’t see eye to eye on some things. We’re different. It’s inherent at a genetic level, and it’s inherent at a life experience and worldview level.

Unfortunately, in a society that promotes such blatant extremism in behaviour and reactions, we are no longer able to have a civil conversation on issues that really matter.

And I get it – issues like race, gender identity, finances, socioeconomic status can all be deeply personal and have much more riding on them than what appears on the surface. There can be a lot of conviction, and also a lot of pain.

But we have lost the ability to have a conversation on these things. No doubt arguments on the big topics will always be fairly heated, but what has happened to our respect for the human life? We reduce people down to nothing more than their ideals, and take licence to absolutely destroy their person based on our ability to accept or reject what they believe.

And what happens when a group of people who are outraged, triggered, furious and determined usually do? Destroy others, and usually also their own reputations, livelihoods, and even their own lives.

One of the most pressing topics at the time of writing in my country is the issue of same-sex marriage, on which and around which former National Party leader John Anderson put forward his concerns beyond the immediate issue – he rightly highlighted that our parliament and even our country is deeply fractured, so focused on what divides us that we have forgotten that we have even more things that unite us (fantastic interview, check it out here). His comments reminded me of a TedX Talk I heard in recent years of how we are all unique, but only by a difference of 0.06%.

And yet our increasingly extreme reactions to opposing viewpoints will only continue to escalate to the point of violence as we lose our ability to remember the value of the person or the people we are speaking to.

Does this mean we should always agree? It’s not always going to be possible. But we do need to find a path that leads us to a safer and more secure society, not one dominated by hatefully discounting those we can’t see eye to eye with.

And really, it starts small, and it starts with all of us. Even when we have been genuinely driven to outrage and being triggered by all things big and small, we really need to stop destroying our entire world over it. We can’t sink the ship we’re all on. We, like those in the earlier days of the great ships powered by human effort, need to learn how to row together.

We can’t have another Charlottesville happen again.

How about you? Do you think our obsession with outrage and being triggered is a good or a bad thing?

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