A protester in Minneapolis vandalizes an O'Reilly's near the Minneapolis Police Third Precinct May 27, 2020. CNS photo/Nicholas Pfosi, Reuters

Sr. Helena Burns: Don’t fall into the traps of this age of rage

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  • October 22, 2020

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Don't fall into the traps of this age of rage

Sr. Helena Burns, FSP

If the 20th century was the “age of anxiety” (W.H. Auden), the 21st century is shaping up to be the “age of rage.”

I believe our collective rage (at least in North America) began around 9/11. Planes in Canada and the U.S. were grounded for an unheard of week-long period. World economies took a nosedive. And it was then that the crazed, hyper-competitive “24-hour-news cycle” began in earnest. Everyone was glued to their TVs non-stop for weeks (remember, there were no iPhones till 2007 and no iPads till 2010). Why let that momentum stall? From then on, everything became urgent, everything became “breaking news” with perpetual chyrons crawling across the bottom of our screens.

Earlier than 2001, the news industry had already discovered that “if it bleeds it leads.” Since then, the Fourth Estate has been more than obliging in giving us what we want. When we finally got our beloved mobile devices, we could turn on, tune in, drop out and binge on bad news nonstop (there’s even a name for it today: “doom scrolling”). To add fuel to the digital fire, we got “social media” (Twitter started its engines in 2006, the same year Facebook branched out from academia), often called The Fifth Estate, where everyone is now a journalist, photojournalist and videojournalist.

What could go wrong?

Most curious of all to me in all the data surrounding our use of social media is the fact that the number one emotion expressed or elicited on Facebook is … anger. Why? Why not silliness, optimism or some other uplifting behaviour?

Let’s be clear: There’s nothing wrong with righteous anger. Jesus got angry. But He didn’t stay angry. It wasn’t a state of being for Him. In fact, it was a rare and well-placed emotion. Perhaps some stay angry because it keeps them fired up, some because they don’t know any peace and happiness “to go back to,” or some because they’ve been conditioned by “ideologies of rage” that tell them this is the only way to change things.

In August, the captain of the San Jose Sharks was sucker-punched in the face, in public, in Toronto, for simply saying aloud that he would vote for a particular political candidate. Now just what did that prove, fix, correct, change?

French Revolution-style angry mobs don’t work towards the good. Those who feel they have identity or power only in a mob are the truly powerless. Historically, tyrants emerge from mobs and everyone else winds up more disenfranchised than ever. Look around at what love has built and sustains. What have anger and hate built?

There’s an ongoing shift in various social sciences from cynical “social Darwinism” (applying “survival of the fittest” and “nature, red in tooth and nail” to human society) to a view of astounding “social co-operation” (see the new book from Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, Humankind: A Hopeful History, as well as The New Story of Science and The New Biology, both by Robert Augros).

There is a temptation today to think that if we don’t have thousands of followers online that we’re not really an “influencer,” that we’re not making a difference. But the slogan “think globally, act locally” is as true as it ever was. What if everyone realized they matter, they’re important by taking care of their little corner of cyberspace, their little corner of the world? Then there would be millions of people, millions of places, millions of minds and hearts being touched by millions of other “everyday people,” not just celebrities. Pope Francis calls this “social friendship” in his new encyclical.

Most people in this world get along, work together and help each other out — unless prodded by nefarious ideas and forces to do otherwise. And most of us already know this because we see and do it every day ourselves. The disaster of the coronavirus pandemic actually made my mom’s neighbourhood even more solicitous for each other. How about your neighbourhood? Don’t buy into meta-narratives that don’t match your experience of reality.

A recent online post from a priest struck me: “The line for Confessions started 20 minutes early. We are an angry, merciless society. In the midst of that rage is the voice of Jesus reminding us He will never give up on us or despise us; He always cherishes our bumbling efforts to love like Him. 4 priests, 3 hours, infinite mercy.”

(Sr. Helena, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. www.HellBurns.com  Twitter: @srhelenaburns)

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