I rolled out of bed at 5:30 this morning, eager to start on my daily writing. In an act of weakness, I opened up Facebook… just to take a peek.
The trending post came from a local community page. A neighbor ranted about the injustice and inhumanity of having to wait three whole minutes at a traffic light on Springfield Avenue. A few dozen other commenters followed with their own horror stories of slightly extended wait times at the notorious intersection.
My mobile Starbucks order was ice cold by the time I got there. Something must be done!
Okay, that wasn’t really one of the comments, but they generally followed that track of misplaced outrage.
It’s the kind of story that makes you shake your head and question how people have so much free time to complain about inconsequential, trivial bullshit. We forget that it’s a privilege, a blessing to have so little to complain about that a forever traffic light fuels such anger and outrage.
But more than that, it also signals the return to baseline normalcy — a state of relative stability and boredom where each day feels like a repeat of the one before. When we’re in that state of mind, we latch onto whatever form of excitement that’s most convenient.
There was a time, not so long ago when we’d get all worked up over a late pizza delivery, long traffic lights, and over-the-top celebrity gossip. We couldn’t be happy unless we had something to complain about, sanctimonious culture critics lamented.
Then came Trump, social unrest, and later Coronavirus. Legitimate complaints and moral disgust replaced much of our misplaced outrage. The extended rants about the local diner that refused to accommodate screaming children no longer went viral.
We bemoan faux outrage in the midst of it, but in times of turbulence, we reminisce about the good old days of phony outrage. If life were so horrible, the outlook so bleak, we wouldn’t waste our time ranting about pointless crap. That was the upside we never noticed until it had disappeared.
Misplaced outrage has gotten too easy.
Not so long ago, outrageous indignation rarely grabbed a foothold. It took real, actual work to get your point across. That’s not the case today.
When I grew up in the 80s and suffered the injustice of an incorrect order from a fast food place or a delay in snow removal, we had to pick up the phone and complain to a real live human being. It wasn’t worth the effort unless they really screwed you over. But now it’s easy.
Today, all we need to do is Tweet or post a derogatory rant without ever having to confront another human being. The convenience of expressing disgust with fellow humans has turned it into a national pastime.
We’re uncommonly brave in our outrage when we don’t have to confront another person face to face or voice to voice.
The positive spin on misplaced outrage
From the right perspective, it serves a needed purpose, one which we often overlook.
It reminds us of how lucky we are.
Imagine the privilege of having so many of your needs met, having no crises on the immediate horizon that your mind latches onto the injustice of a delayed traffic light to kickstart excitement in your life.
If you enjoy the freedom, time, and headspace to rant about something so inconsequential, the rest of your life must be pretty damn good. People are starving, lacking healthcare, and suffering hardships. Your tears over a long traffic light or messed up food delivery signal privilege, not torture.
When we feel the urge to lash out over these minor transgressions, we need to remember that most of the world would kill to trade our problems with theirs.
It signals a return to baseline normalcy.
For much of 2020, I woke up each morning to check on vaccine status, virus statistics, and election news. We lived through a turbulent year where stuff that mattered dominated the news cycle.
Now, we’re starting to see a return to meaningless garbage infiltrate our feeds, inconsequential crises that cycle out of the public sphere in mere hours.
That’s a sign of hope. It signals that we’re adapting to a new normal. We still may be a ways off from the humdrum of same old same old, but it’s a sign we’re moving in the right direction.
It jumpstarts us into something productive.
A few days ago, I ordered lunch from a local restaurant. When I opened the bag, I noticed they had mixed the dressing into my salad instead of putting it on the side. I’m not the kind of person to leave damaging reviews on the internet, especially for a locally owned business, but I could not let this slide.
Sure, I could have gone back to the store and ask them to remake it, but that would have required a six-minute drive each way. Instead, I huffed and puffed for a few minutes and then ate my dressing-soaked salad.
Oh, was I tempted to vent my outrage on our local community page, but instead, I channeled that anger into a twelve-hundred-word essay.
After all, if you’re blessed with the privilege to experience and voice misplaced outrage, you have a responsibility to put that time to good use. Rather than kick, rant, and cry, use that time to create something worthwhile.
Baseline normalcy is that sense of life slipping by without incident, each day a repeat of the previous. We get bored and become desperate for excitement. This state of mind allows misplaced outrage to thrive.
When you witness it, you shake your head in disgust. When you indulge in it, you want to pretend it never happened. On the positive side, it’s a sign that life isn’t so terrible.