Blind Rage and the erosion of empathy

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have noticed the crescendo of rage and violence infiltrating all levels of our society lately, despite living in the safest, most nutritious, medically accessible, disease preventable, long lived, opportune and interconnected time in human history. We have the means of exchanging ideas, goods, experiences and goodwill at an individual as well as mass level that is unprecedented. Yet, one could be forgiven for thinking that people are unhappier than they’ve ever been. People are getting angrier, over all sorts of things. And no anger is so intense, so violent and so merciless as righteous anger.

Rage is a mobilising, powerful emotion, that causes us to narrow our focus and direct all attention on the subject of our anger. It is a primal response to our perceptions of incongruity of our external and internal worlds and is rooted in the fight-flight instinct. Its purpose is to turbo-boost our physiology to overcome threats, and protect ourselves, our territory, our young, and our clan from harm. But the danger in rage is precisely that it prevents us from having a wider and more comprehensive perspective; it blocks our ability to show empathy and it leaves us vulnerable to manipulation by those with hidden agendas. You cannot hear while you scream. Think about that. It makes communication challenging and narrows our sense awareness down to one of threat detection, rather than inclusion and cooperation.

It undermines our relationships, it robs us of the richness of other points of view and it makes for an inherently uni-dimensional life, closed off from possibilities that might clash with a world view we have stubbornly internalised for ourselves, based on our own, narrow life experience. Its been said that the highest point of maturity is to have among your circle of friends people that have diametrically opposed views to yours, whether they be political, religious, social or otherwise. This helps to temper any tendency we may have to extremism, by being open to the experiences and ideas of others, as well as to sustain that fundamental human capacity for empathy, compromise and civilised exchange.

Now there’s nothing wrong with rage or anger, per se. There is a time and a place for them, and they serve their purpose well. But history is replete with tragic stories of misplaced rage, or mass manipulation of populations such that uncontrolled mobs, or worse- controlled mobs, wreak destruction that would otherwise be unimaginable to those people as individuals. We need to both be careful and aware of who is inciting us to anger, and consider carefully our actions and decisions when we are angry. We should also pause to consider if all this continuous cause to anger from one side or the other is distracting us from our primary purpose, which is to make the most of ourselves, to serve our families, and to make our community safer and more prosperous. Be careful of the distraction of rage. It rarely ever leads to a good place.

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