I’ve recently taken greater notice of an online action<->reaction phenomenon in which the response to some comment, post, or action is met with a response totally out of proportion. Think “killing a mosquito with a nuclear bomb” kind of out of proportion. And, yes, it’s usually guys taking it to a potentially violent level. It doesn’t have to be that way.
First, allow me to use a couple of recent incidents to illustrate the problem:
A couple of weeks ago, a blogger wrote a post taking the people of Charleston, SC to task for not meeting her expectations, a post to which I wrote a long rebuttal. This was simply a person writing about their displeasure – an experience they had.
Some of the responses, however, descended to threats of bodily harm and included the address of her workplace should anyone, you know, happen to be going by there and feel like making her life “more difficult." Somehow, threatening someone over their exercise of Free Speech seems un-American and, well, inhuman.
“Mosquito in sight, sir! Shall I fire all weapons?”
The second example is from a friend. Using a popular online dating site, she browsed a man’s profile and then decided not to message him. Like looking through a JC Penny catalog and deciding the jeans on page 3 aren’t what you’re looking for. Shortly thereafter she received a message from this “gentleman." I’ve included a screen capture of it. Yes, this is the response to someone looking at a profile and then taking no action on it.
“Sir! We are at DEFCON 5!”
Are these isolated incidents or are we seeing these types of responses all over?
Where is all this anger coming from?
Psychology Today (PT) has a great article that discusses this issue. It suggests the anger comes from feelings of inadequacy and a failure to address these feelings in a positive manner.
Let’s face it, society has changed rapidly and many men have not been given the proper tools to deal with the changes. For centuries we’ve had an inherent privilege by being males – especially white males – that we just took for granted. Everything was laid out for us to grab success. Women and minorities have had to fight harder to get their due in ways we’ve never had to.
Feminism has taken away some of that privilege forcing us to work more for our place in the world, something our parents and their parents never prepared us for. The promises made to us as children – that the world was our oyster – are not being kept. Whereas in the past we may have been able to get by on half-effort, that is becoming less and less the case. It means we fail more.
Being a man has been defined for us as having all sorts of success – in our jobs, in our dating, in our competitions – and we’re failing. Once we fail, what do we do about it?
This is where the PT article comes in handy. We don’t need to feel victimized by society when we fail. We don’t need to lash out and get stuck in the anger/depression cycle that follows. We need to look at each failure as a signal for what we need to work on.
When you pick up a guitar for the first time you’re going to suck. Worse than you imagined. Will you curse the guitar for being difficult and quit, or will you put the effort into practicing it and getting better? I propose that we’re becoming a society of quitters and that needs to change.
We need to recover that belief in ourselves that we can improve. That we can see positive results from working on ourselves. But how can we do that when there’s so much out of our control? We can’t control our jobs. We can’t control the people in our lives.
It starts small. It starts by finding something about ourselves to improve. Maybe it’s taking guitar lessons and practicing daily to remind ourselves that we can do things and get better. Maybe it’s working through some exercises in a self-help book. Maybe we go to the gym and start a strength program, tracking the gains (those gainz!) in our lifting numbers. We need to regain confidence in our ability to control our own lives.
Along those lines I’m also going to suggest you back off from all those things you really have no control over that just make you feel powerless. Watch the national news a bit less. If you’re living in South Carolina, you can’t tell the people in California how to live their lives, so why feel frustrated and powerless by that? Let them control their destinies. Keep just enough awareness to recognize how their choices influence your life personally (such as through the products you buy or the services you use). Globalization has both good and bad sides – it is what it is – and one of the things it brings up is feelings of inadequacy. We feel powerless.
Here’s what I think: our world is much smaller than we think. The happenings at your town hall (have you ever even been to it?) are far more important to your daily life than discussions in Brussels. The election of a new mayor is far more important to your world than the re-election of Israel’s Prime Minister. The effort you put in at your local food pantry or YMCA will have a bigger effect than writing a letter to the editor about how embarrassing Southern Charm is.
Let’s focus on our little ping pong ball-sized world, improve ourselves to regain our confidence, and rediscover our compassion and humanity. We’ll all be the better for it.
In addition to being a “generally happy person”, Steven is the co-host of MODLove, a weekly radio show that discusses love in the modern world