America, You Have an Anger Problem

Fri, January 11, 2013

Changing the World, Politics, Women Online

Vice President Joe Biden was meeting with representatives of the National Rifle Association as part of the discussion the White House is trying to have after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings. While he was meeting with the group whose head believes that we need more “good guys” with guns to combat the “bad guys,” another school shooting was taking place. This time it as a 16-year-old boy in California who said he was targeting the kids who bully him. One person was injured but no one was killed, fortunately.

I mused on my Facebook page about the bully aspect to this story. One person rightly commented that we don’t just have a gun problem in America.  We also have bullying and anger problems, ones that we’re neglecting in commentary about violence.

So why aren’t we having a national conversation about anger? Where is the call to change the bullying atmosphere not only in our schools but also in our public discourse? Those who think our gun problem is more a result of media glorification of gun violence than it is about how we regulate gun ownership, should take a quick turn around cable new shows for a glimpse of how displays of anger have become accepted and embraced as a political techniques, and how our examples of hot tempers and uncontrolled vitriol have impacted our so-called conversation.

Anger and fear over whether the government is going to take away guns.

Anger and fear in the form of political movements.

Anger and fear that invades, or precludes, governing.

Anger and fear have clearly been the motivating factors behind the so-called fiscal cliff debacle.

Google the phrase “politicians yelling at each other” and see if you have the time to sift through almost ten million hits.

Plenty of us focus on being better communicators for a living. And there are myriad online tools for that. So how have we gotten to a place where so many people believe the only way to advance their cause is to use the least effective methods — shouting, yelling, screaming with anger?

How did we become America the self-righteous?

As adults, it’s bad enough to have to sift through the screaming rhetoric to find the actual takeaways. But by allowing ourselves to give in to the “he or she who shouts the loudest and longest wins” approach and when bullying and name-calling pass for political analysis, we have to ask — “What lessons are we giving our kids?”

Does anyone think that watching Capitol Hill teaches our children anything other than the idea that no one should ever give in, and that it’s productive to call the others names, yell louder, not back down, and that compromise is for the weak?

We are surrounded by anger just as much as we are surrounded by guns.  As we have seen time and time again, those don’t make a winning combination.

Anger can become all-consuming. As a kid, I got angry a lot. As a teenager, I realized one day it didn’t feel good to be angry all the time, and tried to figure out ways to better deal with situations that made me mad. I’m glad I didn’t grow up in today’s online world, because the anger and bullying are overwhelming, just as they are becoming overwhelming in the world as it’s presented to us as news.

There’s apparently so much anger among adolescents that it has its own diagnosis — Intermittent Explosive Disorder, “a syndrome characterized by persistent uncontrollable anger attacks not accounted for by other disorders.” Sounds like Capitol Hill might need a support group for that.

I do believe there needs to be  a sea change in how we think about guns and how they’re sold and regulated. Not to mention bullets. But looking at the almost daily occurrences of violence should make us just as concerned about helping our kids learn as early as possible how to manage their anger and anxiety in more productive ways. Obviously, most of us who go through anxious times aren’t going to go on a shooting rampage. But we live in a society where anger and obstructionism are portrayed as the norm, and that fomenting public anxiety is the preferred political tool for making any argument. It’s time to look at that leadership dynamic, and not just movies and video games, to figure out why and how we’ve created an America where anger is our default reaction, rather than a last resort.

Image via iStockphoto/Carl Swahn

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5 Responses to “America, You Have an Anger Problem”

  1. Marti Teitelbaum Says:

    totally agree with you! I will add to your list of examples: comments that use ugly names for people with whom the commenter disagrees. This happens on both sides. The sites I visit frequently use words like “Repubtards” or “Rethuglicans.” I don’t like the Republicans any more than those commenters do, but I think using those kinds of names moves any discussion away from rational thought. (I also can’t stand the addition of the “tard” suffix that so many people do. It’s incredibly insulting to the developmentally disabled community).

  2. PunditMom Says:

    Marti, I totally agree. So many examples on both sides of the aisle.

  3. lori Says:

    This is what I said from the get go, America is FULL of Angry people and lots of them own guns ! So true !

  4. Donna Says:

    I think we’ve always been self-righteous — all that manifest destiny stuff. And for a superpower, I think we’re insecure. It’s almost as if we never got over being a colony. But I think that’s where all this belligerence comes from.

    Our penchant for gun violence is a complicated problem. It will involve legislation on guns and ammunition, but also to build a better safety net for mental health and learning how not to be bullies. I don’t think we’re going to see it solved in our lifetimes. :(

  5. Elizabeth Flora Ross Says:

    There IS a pervasive culture of bullying in America. And no one seems to be looking at adult attitudes and behaviors. Personally, I believe we will never succeed in helping our children until and unless we affect changes in public discourse overall. Many adults are setting the wrong example for children – and the results are devastating.

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