Digital Only: Young Adults
Coping with the Age of Outrage on Social Media
It’s easier than ever to let our actions be motivated by anger, especially on social media. But we can’t afford to.
My blood was boiling. These people clearly know nothing on this topic, I thought, peering down at the virtual shouting match playing out on my smartphone’s Twitter feed. I quickly crafted a perfect response to join the throng—certain that everyone would see how uninformed their opinions were when my tweet pointed out their ignorance. I was about to press send, thought clouds of contempt churning, when a still, small voice managed to pop into my head:
Would Christ say that?
My thumb paused, hovering over the “Tweet” button. My stomach sank.
No. No, He wouldn’t.
Then why would you?
I sighed, took a few deep breaths, and deleted the tweet. I felt awful. What had just come over me?
We Live in an Age of Outrage
Anger is all the rage these days—especially online. Disagree with someone? Prove them wrong. See something unfair? Call it out. Read something incorrect? Correct it. These types of responses are not only accepted in today’s online culture, they’re encouraged (looking at you, engagement algorithms). And the nature of online communication only seems to exacerbate our generation’s growing anger problem: anonymity emboldens unkindness, distance desensitizes empathy, and instant gratification in the form of likes, upvotes, and retweets keeps fanning the flames.
It’s easier than ever to get caught up in the divisive rhetoric of the day, especially when it involves causes we’re passionate about. Of course, anger is a perfectly normal emotion we all experience, and being a good person and feeling angry aren’t mutually exclusive. (Remember the righteous, unselfish anger of Captain Moroni for his people? [see Alma 59:13].) But indulging in anger—the kind that encourages vitriolic, resentful, or defensive behavior—can be detrimental to our relationships, including our relationship with our heavenly parents. Simply put, we as young adult Latter-day Saints—the future of the Church—can’t afford to let our actions be determined by anger, whether online or in real life. Here’s why.
1. Anger Chases Away the Spirit—and Reason
Using your agency to allow unrighteous anger into your heart is one of the quickest ways to lose the guiding influence of the Holy Ghost. After all, the Savior made it clear where that type of anger comes from: “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger” (3 Nephi 11:29; emphasis added).
Contention arises when we act on our anger and direct it toward others. It spurs arguments and feelings of hate. We simply cannot feel the Spirit while harboring anger in our hearts. What’s more, President Russell M. Nelson taught that we’re going to need the “guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost” to survive spiritually in coming days.1 The influence of the Holy Ghost is something we can’t afford to lose, especially over silly online disputes.
Not only do we lose the Spirit when choosing anger, but we lose the ability to see situations clearly. We can even lose the ability to act with reason. “[Intemperate anger] destroys wisdom and sound judgment. When we become upset, reason is suppressed, and anger rushes in. To make decisions while infuriated is as unwise and foolish as it is for a captain to put out to sea in a raging storm. Only injury and wreckage result from wrathful moments.”2 Just as I was on the verge of sending a tweet I wasn’t proud of, we can lose sight of who we truly are and who we’re trying to be when angry. It can become a vicious cycle if it isn’t curbed.
2. Anger Leads to Poor Choices
Consider the degenerative effect anger had on Laman and Lemuel. Each time they chose to rebel against the Lord and their family, anger served as the kindling for their unrighteous actions (see 1 Nephi 3:28; 7:16; 2 Nephi 5:1–3). And each time Laman and Lemuel continued to give in to their anger, their actions became progressively worse as they became more and more desensitized to sin. Their anger toward Lehi and Nephi led them to murmur, verbally and physically abuse family members, and attempt murder (on various occasions), and it ultimately spurred the division into Nephites and Lamanites.
In sum, Laman and Lemuel’s resentment toward their brother sparked enough fury to fuel a centuries-long feud that ended in death, spiritual degeneration, and, in the case of the Nephite nation, destruction. Giving in to anger can have dire consequences. However, acting on anger is exactly that—giving in. Although we may feel anger at times, nothing can make us angry; the fact is, we choose to be angry. It’s up to us to decide how to react in less-than-ideal circumstances.
3. Anger Can Keep Us from Growth
Situations in life can be frustrating, even unfair. But that’s normal. Frustrations are supposed to happen in our lives—without them, we wouldn’t grow or learn. In fact, who we become is ultimately determined by how we decide to use our agency in those very situations. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
“There may be many things about life that are beyond your control. But in the end, you have the power to choose both your destination and many of your experiences along the way. It is not so much your abilities but your choices that make the difference in life. …
“You cannot allow [circumstances] to make you mad.”3
Now consider how Nephi, the ever-stalwart champion of choosing the right, chose to react to anger:
“Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
“Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
“Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions” (2 Nephi 4:27–29; emphasis added).
Nephi first recognized his anger and confronted it. Then he called upon the gift of the Holy Ghost to give him the willpower to leave his anger behind—independent of what his enemies and afflictions had caused him.
Nephi’s decision to choose the Lord over anger contrasts starkly with that of Laman and Lemuel. I’m sure Nephi could have tried justifying his feelings (I mean, his brothers had been trying to kill him for years now—anyone would be upset about that!), but he recognized the harm anger had already caused to his family. He saw how it had caught Laman and Lemuel in a cycle of blame, entitlement, and rebellion. He knew the danger it could bring to his own spiritual progression. Instead, he chose to look to the Savior for the strength to overcome his anger.
We Can End the Age of Outrage
I know that as we take time to slow down and rely on the Lord to guide us, we won’t make anger a defining characteristic of our mortal journey. We may be increasingly surrounded by inciting, clamoring voices, but we can choose how we react to them. We can (and should!) share our passion, dedication, and opinions, but we can do that with kindness and understanding—especially with those who disagree with us. If we choose not to get angry, we’ll be blessed with the constant influence of the Holy Ghost to lead and protect us, and we can be an example of light to others.
I’m so thankful for the whisperings of the Holy Ghost not to send my angry tweet that day. It may seem like an inconsequential example of restraint, but it taught me a lesson that I’ll never forget.