By Alan Vitello
That’s the name of the 1983 children’s book by author and illustrator Mercer Mayer. It is a great book that features Mayer’s recurring character, Little Critter. The book was one of our son’s favorite back in the days when we read to him at bedtime.
In the story, Little Critter is mad…really MAD…at everything and everyone: his little sister, mom, dad, grandparents, the fact he can’t draw on the walls or play with his sister’s toys—you name it…he is MAD! He’s sooooooo mad, in fact, that he decides to run away.
Back in the days of bedtime reading, little did I suspect I Was So Mad would turn out to be much more than a favorite book. Now, It seems like the saying “I Was So Mad” is standard operating procedure for our society in this age of digital media, social media, and the dreaded “fake news.”
As I started to write this article, I Googled, “Outrage Fatigue.” That’s a real thing. It basically means we are so outraged by the continual and seemingly never-ending stream of news stories or social media posts that we simply can’t be outraged anymore.
With apologies to readers who may get outraged by the use of acronyms, I call this condition Chronic Outrage Syndrome (COS). Here’s the thing, our entire modern society is awash in outrage. We are outraged by a countless number of things every day. We are so outraged by so many things—in this hyper-partisan and politically fractured era in which we find ourselves living—that outrage is actually becoming our normal way of seeing the world.
Never read the book I Was So Mad? Now’s your chance. View the short video at the end of this article.
Another serious toxic societal disease that has befallen us: Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS). It means we are easily distracted by whatever shiny object (or news story or social media post) that happens to catch our eye at any given moment. We are completely fascinated with that object…until the next shiny object comes along.
Often, COS and SOS skip along together, gleefully grasping each other’s nefarious hands.
When that fevered frenzy besets us, our thumbs usually go into overdrive texting and twittering and posting, responding to an offending Facebook or Twitter post or news story. Our goal: responding with a level of bile and vitriol commensurate, and usually beyond, the level of the offending words.
We become immersed in accusations, recriminations, finger-pointing, name-calling and all manner of ad hominen attacking, just to prove the thing that set us off is totally and completely wrong, that the doofus who made the original post is a complete irredeemable dunderhead, and too stupid to recognize just how stupid he, or she, really is.
Example: Remember the London attack in March 2017 when a terrorist drove a car onto the sidewalk of Westminster Bridge outside of the House of Parliament, mowing down 40 people, five of whom were killed?
A bystander whipped out his selfie stick, while on Westminster Bridge, and snapped a picture of himself as first responders were responding? Remember him? You don’t remember? Click here and you’ll find an article about Selfie Guy caught by someone else’s camera.
Social media went wild, 300,000 comments calling him “The Worst Human EVER!” and other nasty names. (Gee. The worst human EVER! Now that’s something—there have been some pretty bad humans.)
Remember to take the short poll at the end of this article, please.
Anyway, I’ll bet—since we’ve been bombarded with endless “worst ever” incidents since then—that you have forgotten how mad you were when you read about the Selfie Guy. I have.
The outrage against Selfie Guy had absolutely no context. Based on that one image of him, it’s impossible to tell what he was actually photographing. Himself? The crowd? First responders? Or trying to see above the crowd? We don’t know. Nor do we know who he is or, why he was there, or if he had a relationship to the victim or police. Was he a journalist? A witness? In shock? Nothing. But it was the perfect storm for COS and SOS. There was worldwide shiny outrage…until the next outrage came along.
It’s time for us as a society to grow up, to grow out of being “the Outrage Generation.” It’s time we stop (as my, now, all grown-up, son would say), being “butt-hurt about everything.” We need to cure ourselves of the twin evils of COS and SOS before it’s too late.
Nonetheless, we continue using COS and SOS to poison our own the well where our critical thinking is stored. We lustily continue gulping every drop of poisoned water. It’s slowly killing. We are slowly killing us.
Here’s the really crazy, crazy thing: We don’t have to drink the poison. Evolution has made us smart. We have big brains and, generally speaking, those big brains have served us very well.
Here’s my advice on how to keep the COS and SOS poison out of our lives:
View ideas and opinions (and even scenarios like Selfie Guy) as if they are little pieces of colored glass inside a kaleidoscope. Hold them up to a light. Turn the kaleidoscope ‘round and ‘round and watch the colored pieces continually rearrange themselves in patterns. And consider: there are many, many ways to look at the same pieces of colored glass, or the same bits of information, as the light passes through them.
Let’s try looking at the arrangements of others without pre-judging before we ever set an eye on the universal kaleidoscope of our own lives. Let’s learn to talk about those arrangements and our own arrangements in reasonable, rational, and respectful ways. Let’s find the context, the backstory, the picture behind the picture. Let’s discover why they’re arranged as they are.
Most importantly let’s allow ourselves to put our big brains to work. Outrage without context is just another shiny object, another distraction, another gulp from a poisoned well.
Let’s keep away from COS, SOS and the poison. Let’s not be Little Critter.
- Huffington Post: Guarding your focus against Shiny Object Syndrome.
- Psychology Today: Coping with outrage fatigue.
- Why am I so angry? 12 reasons.
- 20 things to do when you feel extremely angry.
Watch this 9-minute reading of I Was So Mad: