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Outrageous

Posted: April 17, 2014 10:19 a.m.
Updated: April 18, 2014 5:00 a.m.

You know what the most commonly used word in the English language seems to be?

Outraged.

Nearly everybody who expresses an opinion these days is outraged about something.

Newspaper columnists are outraged. Letter-to-the-editor writers are outraged. Bloggers are outraged. Television pundits are outraged. Political candidates are outraged.

But here’s what I’ve noticed:

Much of this outrage comes with a sniff of superiority, a touch of piety and heavy-handedness. Those who are so angry can find everything wrong with what others are doing, but they display little tolerance for opinions other than their own.

Those on the far left and the far right are the most outraged of all.

Just so you’ll know, I’m not outraged about anything.

Oh, sure, I’m disappointed about various things, on a regular basis. Every once in awhile, I’m even disgusted.

But not outraged.

I’m disappointed that our government doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, that our elected officials in Washington – and in many towns and states, for that matter – seem more interested in their own narrow philosophies than in the art of compromise.

I’m disappointed that nearly half the babies in this country each year are born into single-parent households and that many of them will never have the steadying influence of a father figure.

I’m disappointed that cancer and other dread diseases continue to strike down millions of people and that medicine – still an inexact science – can’t figure out the answer to more of those problems.

Heck, I’m even disappointed that winter doesn’t seem to want to go away this year. Maybe by the end of August I’ll be outraged at the heat, but I doubt it.

Here’s the odd thing: outrage has become predictable.

Social media outlets have given everyone a voice – a loud voice, in many instances. Nobody would argue, of course, that people of all ilks and philosophies have a right to their own opinions, and to voice those opinions.

But the screaming – either on a computer screen or a piece of newsprint – gets louder daily. And the more those people raise their voices, the more others feel a need to squawk back.

Before social media became ubiquitous, most newspapers had a firm policy when it came to letters to the editor: anonymous missives weren’t accepted.

Hiding behind a cloak of secrecy wasn’t tolerated; it gave people too much of a chance to sound off without being accountable for their accusations, their rages, even their inaccuracies.

But that’s pretty much out the window nowadays, at least in cyberspace. No matter how extreme their views, people can sound off with impunity. If you’re ready to screech at someone, if you’ve built yourself into a crescendo of outrage, you can certainly find a forum for it.

And it shouldn’t strike any of us as merely coincidental that the more uncivil we ordinary Americans become in our discourse – the more outraged we are – the more discord we see in government.

The unsettling part about this is that niggling little problems that used to just slide off people’s backs now become fodder for outrage. Why let go of a small annoyance when you can build it into a tower of vituperation and let everyone else know about it?

The result, I fear, is that we have become an unhappier society.

Of all the people who claim to be outraged this morning -- and it took only one quick swipe of today’s New York Times to find an outraged columnist -- some could probably have settled for being merely upset, or maybe disgruntled.

Natural sentiments, all.

But outraged?

I’m saving mine for something that really deserves it.

(Glenn Tucker is the contributing editor to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.)

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