As I prepare for surgery next week, I find myself counting my blessings. I have family I love, and friends and co-workers who are willing to go to bat for me, and some even to put their lives on hold for a little while just to help me.
And then I log on to the Internet. I’m still counting blessings, but also the number of people who clearly have a need for some light in their lives. As a Facebook friend said of a particularly nasty and outlandish email I received, “Wow, wouldn’t you hate to wake up every morning having to be that person? Their every waking moment must be a seething cauldron of anger and misery.”
That’s a big part of our problem nowadays. Too many people have become isolated in their ideological bubbles and can’t abide the idea of anyone disagreeing with them. Because of that, there’s a surplus of people just looking for things to offend them.
Social media, of course, provides ample fodder, as does any person who happens to opine in a newspaper (especially if that person is a moderate who holds ideas across the political spectrum; how dare someone do that, and, OMG, actually advocate civility and bipartisanship!).
One of the best parts about my surgery is that I’ll be cut off from social media for a few days. I won’t be seeing all those Facebook posts about whatever company has ticked off people by standing up or refusing to stand up for something (it’s funny when people burn or otherwise destroy gear from that company as protest since the company already has their money; it’s also sickening when it’s clothes or other things that could go to people who actually need them). I also won’t see the people who insist on hijacking positive posts by public figures rather than make a post on their own page because they know they’ll get more exposure that way. (Father Nathan Monk actually blocked someone, which he doesn’t ordinarily do, after the person hijacked his post on memories of Anne Rice, who was one of his writing mentors. It took a lot to drive him to that point; he’s far nicer than I would have been.)
And I definitely won’t be seeing all those reposted political memes that are far more angry hyperpartisanship than fact. (That’s a big woo hoo!!!!)
I’d say cutting myself off from the Internet entirely wouldn’t be a bad idea … except that I have to use the Internet to work. Anger is part of the Internet package; it can’t all be cuddly cats and dogs. (But wouldn’t that be nice?)
Sometimes there may be valid medical reasons for anger, such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, dementia, or perhaps a medication, according to WebMD. It may be because someone feels they’re being disrespected or treated unfairly. VeryWellMind says anger can be a positive, healthy emotion, as it can force a person to fix underlying issues within them before the anger turns into aggression.
“Anger can potentially be a positive emotion when we use it to solve problems and recognize conflicts,” the site says. “It is important to accept our anger as a normal emotion, and instead of acting on it in negative ways, we learn to express it in healthy manners, so we do not have to carry it around like a heavy weight.”
Which is what so many people on the Internet and out in the world (usually the people holding up the line at the grocery store or fast-food restaurant who feel entitled to take out their anger on probably innocent retail clerks) have the tendency to do. Is it any wonder that a lot of us feel the need every few days to ignore social media or to not go out where we might have to deal with people who feel the rules everyone has to follow for the good of all are unfair to them?
Much of the anger I see online seems to be a way to make someone feel superior to someone else (criticism of others can be a salve for one’s self-esteem), or because someone is frustrated or embarrassed by something over which they have no control, or maybe just the audacity of someone challenging them (especially with facts; that’s just mean). And it spreads far too easily.
Psychotherapist and author Dr. Aaron Balick told BBC Science Focus in 2020 that, in the Internet age, “the capacity for emotional contagion of anger has increased; certainly you see anger crossing populations much more easily.”
Heck, the events of Jan. 6, 2021—which, yes, qualify as attempted insurrection; more on that next week—might not have been as serious or deadly had it not been for the Internet’s fanning of the flames.
We have to remember, Dr. Nadja Heym, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, told the BBC, “Aggressive behavior comes with huge economic costs. … It has a huge impact on relationships, work performance, mental health, and health in general.”
And in the case of last Jan. 6, it cost some their lives, and others their freedom.
Experts in mental health say one of the best ways to defuse anger is to process it: For example, talk with a friend, or take a step back and reappraise the situation. Figure out why you’re angry and what you can do to fix the situation, which might just mean removing yourself from the equation.
A good way to do that is to limit your exposure to social media, especially the ideological sort (or perhaps instead concentrate on the accounts of publications like mine, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which have clear lines between news and opinion). That may mean “unfollowing” sites that consistently focus on the negative, and following more positive ones.
Hey, cute animals are nearly always positive. Can’t hurt to look at a fuzzy belly every once in a while.