The hardest thing I had to learn on the road to enlightenment is that awareness shouldn’t suck. As I practiced awareness, I witnessed people’s behaviors without truly understanding them, and that’s when I got mad, and it felt awful.
It went something like, “Oh, that awful mom just shamed her child in public. Wow! People are awful. Poor kid.”
Then I would try to understand and calm myself down by ramping up moral outrage and spewing some of that around. “I wish people would get their lives together before they have children. Who does this kind of thing? One day I’m going to start a children’s charity.” (Yep, I really said that!)
I was always mad about something, too. I (my ego) told myself, “Enlightened people must always be angry.”
Somehow, I thought my anger and moral outrage were justified—people are crazy and awful and blah, blah, blah.
Then my spiritual teacher(s) always gently reminded me: “Enlightened people are not mad, Dana.”
I would then get mad at them, too, for saying this!
So why does moral outrage feel so good and seem so logical? We should be mad at people yelling at their kids, right? Hmm…
Moral outrage is a coping skill we developed to intellectualize anger as a way of not having to see the deeper issues of self. It then makes us feel superior to others. Makes sense right? Our parents took away hitting and tantrums (rage). Our schools and churches taught and advocated moral and intellectual superiority, and so voilà—outrage. We spin anger into something logical and moral, take a side and stay there. We never have to empathize or understand others this way, either.
Denying our own behavior is a useful skill for preserving our ego; we simply become aware of “other people’s” awfulness. It’s an easy awareness trap for people on the road to enlightenment. We become aware of “them” and then react harshly to “them.”
Hint: If you are using the word “them”—ever—then you are speaking in ego. A life of “us” and “them” is just as deadly as open hostility and rage. It may be even more deadly because it seems so logical. We often spend years in this state denying self-care and opportunities for healing. We have failed to realize yet that there really is no “them.”
Paradoxically, our deep desire to be good people tricks us into thinking we are always good, and better at life than anyone else. We followed the rules, graduated from college, then rode our elitist high horses to the nearest big city (or big suburb) and hunkered down to a life of Whole Foods, yoga pants, intellectual superiority, and moral outrage.
We sneakily disguise this form of ego with postures of egalitarianism and buzzwords of inclusivity, diversity, and unity. We follow Oprah and Deepak and live in mini-mansions—and then morph our intellect into rage and judgement and direct it on anyone who openly struggles—while practicing little self-reflection of our own.
What you are observing in others is something you are angry with yourself about, and refuse to see. All anger—even moral outrage—is self-hate turned on “them.”
That awful mom I observed so harshly was me. The person who did that thing to her children was me, too.
Maybe I can save you some years and some relationships with the discoveries I’ve made about healing moral outrage.
Moral outrage seems easier than true self-awareness, but it’s not. Self-awareness and owning your integrity may be challenging and unpopular at times, but integrity is beautiful and peaceful inside. There is no anger.
When we feel anger towards anyone, it’s a sign that we’ve forgotten self and purpose and integrity.
Moral outrage has reached new levels because of this election. Behavior on both sides is at an all-time low. To be clear, who I voted for is not important for this discussion. I personally believe that both sides have their merits and their failings.
This discussion is about becoming aware of the sneakiest form of self-hate called moral outrage. If we can see the behavior in ourselves, we can heal ourselves.
Because of the loss, many Hillary supporters have taken the unaddressed pain and fear that has been triggered within themselves and morphed it into outrage for the other side.
They are using their intellect to turn around and wear the label of nasty woman (and man) that Mr. Trump first attached to Secretary Clinton—and they are proud of it.
I’ve seen “Nasty Woman” bumper stickers on Mercedes. Ironic, isn’t it?
Mr. Trump has the very people who called his supporters “deplorable,” now labeling themselves as “nasty” and reveling in it. The Hillary supporters who declared Mr. Trump to be mentally ill, unfit, and labeled his followers deplorable are now acting in a way that is equally divisive, and equally deplorable.
If you find yourself falling into these traps of judgement and fear—I get it. In fact, I’m the queen of moral outrage. It feels real, and it feels awful, and it feels justified. But it’s not who we are—and we cannot let it win or we lose our true nature. As recent events have shown, we become what we hate—in this instance, Hilliary’s supporters have become the deplorable people they cast judgement on before the election.
We must dare to learn about our anger and outrage, to heal, and take care not to harm the world even when we disagree with others.
Maybe this idea will help you get off the moral outrage train I was stuck on for so many years. Reacting to your feelings of powerlessness and anger with moral outrage is actually empowering Mr. Trump’s ego. You are now the nasty person his ego needs you to be.
There can be no war with no enemy. His ego needs a conflict to survive—and so does yours. We must either heal our anger, or it will grow. It’s now time to choose the kind of person we want to be and work on that.