The above image comes from a 2002 episode of the Simpsons. It parodies the tendency of some people to vent their anger at anything.
What was once a quality of cranks, trolls, and that one guy down the street who always yelled at the kids who stepped on his grass has become a hallmark of discourse in our society; and what a sad state of affairs that is. It is like we cannot say anything without dragging in a jab, and insult, or a gripe. Something that says “Look at me! My opinions are right and important and you need to hear them!”
OK, we hear you. We also understand that you are not mad at that cloud, old man (age and gender not really relevant), you are just mad. You are uncomfortable and upset. You feel a sense of alienation and loss of position. The world seems to not work the way you think it should. You are upset about that. All of that is entirely valid. We live in a world nearly of unprecedented technological and cultural change. The institutions that have been firm pillars of our society do not work the way they used to work. Sometimes that is good, oftentimes, it is not. The anger and frustration many people feel about the world is legitimate.
They way we are expressing it, however, is not.
On Facebook the other day, I saw a discussion of the cover of a new comic book, typical heroic team-leaping-into-action pose that we have all seen hundreds of time before, and yet someone took that opportunity to use language that attacked people who view culture and politics differently. Completely out of the blue, unprovoked, and unwarranted. It was just the proverbial Old Man yelling at clouds. I wonder how many times a day I see something on social media or in an email or in a passing comment that falls into that category. I doubt I have the mental capacity to count it. There are far too many people who assume an argument or go looking for one.
Let’s just all agree to stop.
Let’s agree to take our anger and put it into clear and effective communication, do something active, or just stay quiet.
In communicating the anger and frustration you feel, remember the following:
- Context and Audience matters. If you wish to discuss a particular issue, then do so as part of a conversation with others about that topic and not as an add-on to some random statement. Sometimes you are preaching to the choir, and sometimes you are throwing pearls before swine.
- Language choice matters. The cry of every philosophy and religion major is “Define Your Terms!” Don’t use provocative, unclear, or imprecise jargon and slang to attempt to convey serious thoughts. Avoid generalizations. Avoid personal attacks.
- Express how you are feeling and why without attacking the other or anyone else.
- Don’t get defensive.
- Your point is only worth the evidence and care you use in presenting it. Relying on bad data, logical fallacies, and rhetorical tricks to make your point you only prove it is worthless.
Ultimately, our desire to express ourselves this way is not, no matter what we may tell ourselves and others, an effort to have a discussion. It is not to make a point. It is to express our ego in a base and ultimately childish way. This kind of egoism is rooted in a sinful need to protect and promote self.
Acknowledge your pain and frustration. Engage others in communication that is constructive and respectful. Channel those feelings into actions to change the situation.
Just please, please stop yelling at Clouds.
They cannot hear you, and the rest of us do not want to hear you.