In the most connected culture in the history of humanity, outrage is everywhere.
Slate.com even officially dubbed 2014: “The Year of Outrage.” They even made a handy interactive calendar. You can click on any day of 2014, and find out what everyone was fuming about on that given day.
Everybody’s ticked. People like extreme rhetoric, and we apparently love 140-character exhibitions of our own righteous anger.
But in the Bible, believers are told that yes, we’ll get angry, but we’re to rid ourselves of it as quickly as possible, not to spin it as “righteous.”
So how is it possible to be on social media, wading through a sea of insults and, you know, just general wrongness, without getting worked up into a self-righteous lather?
Here are five things I keep in mind to help me deal with it:
1. Adjust Expectations to Fit the Real World
I hear this all the time. In fact, I’ve heard myself say it:
“I can’t believe someone would do that.” Really? I “can’t believe” it?
People say this about people they’ve known for decades. “I can’t believe my mom said that!”
Really? How long has she been saying stuff like that? Oh, 20 years? Maybe it’s time to start believing she said that. It’s like getting in traffic in rush hour and being stunned and amazed, once again, that there are a lot of cars on the road.
We’re continually shocked and outraged by selfishness and violence and lying. And yet in recorded history, humans have always been this way. Always. Maybe we should quit being shocked, and adjust our expectations to fit reality.
People are broken. This doesn’t mean we excuse insensitive comments, but it does mean we can stop being so surprised by them.
2. Remember Your Own Status as a Sinner
I’m not more morally righteous than that person who just posted that stupid or insulting thing.
Jesus detonates self-righteousness. If I find someone to be a narrow-minded, selfish sinner, I have to stop and acknowledge that I am, too. I can’t get around this.
It’s not a secret, either. As a follower of Jesus, my immorality has already been exposed, publicly, in front of the world. It happened 2,000 years ago, on a hill. It was a violent, bloody scene.
I can’t relate to people as if that didn’t happen.
3. Quit Thinking You Know Others’ Motivations
In what is surely one of the most ignored passages of the New Testament, Paul writes that we not only don’t know the hearts of others, we don’t even know our own motives.
So if I allege that someone has an opposing view on, say, a complex religious freedom law, simply because he’s a bigot, or because he just wants to be fashionable, I’m speaking about that which I do not know. I need to admit I simply don’t know anyone’s experiences, or what they’ve been through, or the hidden things that drive them.
To pretend otherwise is to confuse myself with God.
What’s more: Remember the Golden Rule? I want people to presume the best of my motives, not the worst. Ergo, I need to do the same for others.
4. Remember that You Don’t Have to Control People
That’s a good thing, too, because none of us can really control anyone else.
I don’t have to correct the world. God loves the world, make no mistake, and you know what’s still stunning, after thousands of years of human existence? He still allows people to be wrong.
He lets them walk away. I don’t fully understand this, but it’s a helpful reminder when I’m tempted to correct everyone on Twitter.
And, oh yes—here’s another reason I should give up trying to control others: I haven’t even really figured out how to control me.
5. Above All: Don’t Confuse the Lie with the Person
Living a life of forgiveness is excruciating.
And yet, there’s the Son of God on the cross, unjustly mocked and tortured and in horrific pain, and He’s telling His Father to forgive the people who are killing Him, for they “don’t know what they do.”
Remember: People think what they are doing is justified.
Those online jerks? They usually genuinely think they’re, say, “taking a stand for truth” or “defending against hate,” to use popular examples. I’ll bet they could pass a lie detector test.
This doesn’t minimize the nature of evil at all. In fact, it underscores it, and the role of the Enemy as an author of very convincing lies.
It also underscores that we’re not struggling against the flesh-and-blood who tweet or post on Facebook.
And if this is true, our very refusal to identify the person with the lie is, perhaps, a blow at the Enemy, himself.
Brant Hansen is a radio host who has won multiple National Personality of the Year awards. He also works extensively with CURE International, a worldwide network of hospitals that brings life-changing medical care and the good news of God’s love to children with treatable conditions. Brant currently lives in Northern California with his wife, Carolyn; his son, Justice; and his daughter, Julia. He is the author of the upcoming book Unoffendable and can be found at branthansen.com and @branthansen on Twitter.