There is something so fantastic, so inspiring about the start of a new year. I mean, I know that in purely scientific terms, Jan. 1st is just another day. But it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like the moment for fresh starts, new beginnings, like the whole world is a blank slate just waiting to be written upon.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

This New Year’s Eve, like everything else, was different – no “homemade pasta party” with friends this year! – but the rituals of taking stock and making resolutions went on as planned.

I have a few things in mind, most of them pretty standard, but the big one is this: I plan to let go of outrage.

Outrage is a funny thing. It is so easy to be seduced by it. I’m not sure why. I mean, does it feel good? No, not really. I suppose it feels … necessary? Like, if something bad is happening  you are supposed to feel outrage, right? Especially if the bad thing is happening to someone else, someone vulnerable. Outrage seems like the appropriate response.

But the thing is, outrage is ineffective. It doesn’t work.

Well, actually, I need to qualify that. It works really well at some things. NPR’s program, “Hidden Brain” recently hosted Yale psychologist William Brady, who noted: “The use of outrage, the use of moral and emotional language on social media, it really depends on the context and what you’re trying to accomplish.” If you’re trying “to rally the troops” and motivate those who already agree with you to act, that’s one thing, he said, but trying to persuade others is another. If your goal is the former, then expressing yourself with moral emotions like outrage can be really effective. If your goal is the latter, then perhaps it’s not the best idea.”


Here, possibly, we have to distinguish between the feeling of outrage as a motivator and the expression of outrage as a stand-in for action.

I think it can be easy to equate outrage with caring, and to think that giving up on outrage means giving up. But funny enough, there is growing evidence that, in fact, wild venting might actually get in the way of real change. The theory is, if you engage on an issue by simply posting or tweeting your outrage, you whip up the furor. But you don’t expend energy or time on actions that could actually bring about change. You’ve replaced action with expression.

In practical terms, one of my decisions is to step away from social media. I know I can get lost in the echo chamber of like-minded thoughts, and I will be instead weighing my time and ensuring I am using it wisely, devoting it to work I feel will be productive and rewarding. I will work on listening to understand, not merely to craft a counterpoint. I will aim to speak truth and demand accountability, and to do so in ways that are honest and unflinching, but not mean spirited.

Because the reality is, there are a lot of things that are wildly, heartbreakingly wrong right now. If we are going to right this ship, we will need all hands on deck. We cannot afford to erase an entire segment of the nation because we disagree. Instead, we need to have actual, meaningful conversations with one another about who we are, what we have done and what we aspire to be.

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