Wit without Wisdom

Music, Outrage, and Hope: The Psychology of Happiness

Anger Management, Switch Off Outraged

I love music. Always have, always will. Short of some of today’s questionable songs, my 2100 iTunes song library is an eclectic selection that defies summarization under any single music genre. Like many writers, for me, music inspires ideas, guides the writing tempo, and is fuel for the passion. And like many writers, the lyrics are important—maybe most important. It’s difficult for me to love a song whose lyrics don’t speak to me. The reason I don’t listen to rap, hip-hop, or anything by Taylor Swift is the words have no message for me. I’m sure they do for others, but since I don’t often lament over lost teenage sweethearts or rap with my boys about slappin’ hoes or riding dirty…well you get it.

Words have power. The ones we hear change us.

So today I felt a twinge of depression.

I went music shopping on iTunes and yes, I still actually buy music—OMG, I know right.

Anyway, I was there on iTunes ready to part with some cash to bolster my music library. And then…

I found myself contemplating the purchase of Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and realized I had reached the point of musical wealth. That moment when I am so rich in songs that I am now digging deeper than any music fan should. That depressing zenith when there remains nothing really of value to purchase. Nothing against the one-hit-wonders. I have plenty, but I had reached into a place not even VH1 would dare. I was surfing B-sides that were on B-side albums. Morally, I could not invest even 99 cents into the ownership of these things I considered. There was a frightening moment of hopelessness. My world felt like Bruce Springsteen’s song River.

I shook it off (yes Taylor Swift reference).

Here’s what I didn’t do.

I didn’t go off in complete outrage. I didn’t scream that today’s music offers nothing. I didn’t write a post that the Man is keeping the great Indie Artists Down. I didn’t start a movement called Gen X musics matters.

Once upon a time, being “cool under pressure” was a virtue. No doubt, such thoughts came from my grandparents’ generation. They had, after all, survived the Great Depression, hungry and poor, and from it they walked onto the bloody fields and islands of the second World War.

My grandfather survived the Battle of the Bulge, pinned under the bodies of his dead friends. My great-uncle escaped Nazi imprisonment and hid in a basement for six months. They came home afterwords and they were never outraged.

They had hope for the world. They had fought for that hope and they believed in it.

I grew up admiring them, their quite fortitude, as I admired television characters with those same qualities. These were the guys I wanted to be, to emulate. James T Kirk, James West, even Professor John Robinson seemed like the kind of dad you’d want to have…or be. Cool headed under pressure, fair, firm—not without passion, but imbued with the ability to apply logic and reason…and justice…to the most dangerous of situations. If these men were outraged, they kept in under a firm brow and behind stern true eyes. They took action to make changes. They didn’t rest on proclamations.

Today, cool-headedness is in great absence. No one is simply concerned or annoyed. People are OUTRAGED. There seems no insult, no mis-spoken phrase or even careless, but unintended act or utterance that isn’t met with full volume, red-faced outrage. Honestly, the last time I saw this much drama and hyperbole, my daughter was fourteen and I had taken her mobile phone away for a month. Raising children teaches you to live with being both a Saint and the Great Satan.

I don’t know what the new Outrage song would sound like, but I doubt it will be as brilliant as CCRs Fortunate Son. There is a difference between protest and outrage. One seeks change, the other only blood.

Some things deserve the full-force of our outrage. But not everything. And outrage must always give way to rational argument not hysteria. Yet, most days hysteria is the default setting. A lack of civil dialogue, or respect for different opinions—the screaming villainization by the thought police. Adult five-year-olds stamping their collective twitter feet in demand of candy and social retribution. A mob-witch-hunt mentality that scares the hell out of me.

Are there important issues in the world that deserve our outrage? Yes. Is there an equal amount of false indignation? I think so. Mostly, I believe that people want to be outraged. They want to spew their emotional hurt and suffering all over social media. These unhappy people need an outlet. A thing outside of themselves to blame for all the pain they feel.

But when every slight gets a nuclear reaction, when the smallest phrase is met with condemnation, and when a person’s opinion is immediately categorized as unacceptable intolerance…when we can no longer describe bigotry without sounding like bigots…then I have to wonder when we all became so damn thin-skinned.

If we are lead by these outraged folks then we accept the power of the thought police. We accept that hurting someone’s feelings is exactly the same as murder. In a world where “fat shaming” is as on-par with chopping off heads, we agree to accept the destruction of hope.

And what is the world without hope?

Doctor Curt Richter…affectionately known as the Rat Torturer…did some excellent, although ethically questionable, experiments with rats. Let me cut to the chase as we approach twelve hundred words.

He placed rats in jars of water from which they could not escape. In some cases the rats remained in complete darkness. In others, a light illuminated the area. In the first, they could see nothing, but the drowning water…in the other they could see the world beyond. The rats in darkness drowned within four hours. The rats in the light…they continued to swim for nearly forty hours…the light is hope. Hope builds fortitude.

In a second experiment, the rats were placed in the water and within a few hours the researchers rescued them. When they were placed in the water again, they swam for over sixty hours. Because they had experienced the hope of rescue before, they were willing to hope again… and to wait.

In a recent, similar experiment, rats were given two options. The first to secure a piece of chocolate that lay in one direction of the chamber. The second was to save a fellow rat trapped and drowning in the opposite direction. The rats always choose to help their distressed cagemate….humans should be so nobel.


I often talk about it.

I always write about it.

My music is filled with it.

Outrage is not hope. The outrage we practice today doesn’t create a better world or a happier society. Most of today’s noise is little more than “look at me, I’m intolerant too,” “Over here! Did you see how I attacked that person for thinking differently?” “Listen to me, I’m full of pain and the world outrages me.” That type of false outrage leads to only bad and unhappy places. That mentality is the true zombie horde.

I believe when it was said that, “all evil requires is for good people to remain silent” such high aspirations did not intend evil to mean that which we disagree with.

I believe many of us have remained silent on the issue of outrage. We’ve allowed these intellectual children to be the voice of social media and of our world.

I think it may be time to rein them in, to give them a time out, and…regardless of whether we agree with them on the issue…insist they either behave and act like adults, or they get no more attention from Mommy and Daddy.

I think it may be time for a little Outrage Shaming.

4 replies »

  1. I can identify with this so, so much. There are many things in today’s society that bother me . . . some to the point of righteous indignation, some that simply irritate. But when people are outraged over everything from the serious, life-altering issues all the way down to whether little Billy didn’t get preferential seating in preschool, then “outrage” itself ceases to have any meaning.

    Being filled with rage all the time is exhausting. Who can keep up that kind of intensity on all fronts, on all topics, at all times? I certainly can’t. I have to save my outrage for those things I’m genuinely outraged about—those things that need to change lest we catapult ourselves toward certain doom or the collapse of society.

    That said, I was experiencing something very close to rage at the thought of you feeling enough desperation to almost purchase “Relax.” If you’re ever out on a ledge like that again, you call me and I’ll talk you down. That’s what friends are for.

  2. Isn’t the problem with today’s society aggression? It’s want, want, want a- me, me, me all the time, and if I’m putting a spanner in the works so be it – free music, free films, government handouts – everything for nothing. And yes, I think music can help!

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