I have come to believe there is a deep reservoir of anger simmering only slightly below the surface of our so-called civilized society. But always leery of believing everything I think, I am constantly on the lookout for evidence that will either prove or disprove my assumption.
As one example, can you imagine this hypothetical situation actually happening? A driver is cut off in traffic, perhaps inadvertently, by another driver. Angered by this, he tailgates the offending driver and, at the first opportunity, passes him and immediately cuts back in front of him.
When they stop at the next traffic light, the driver in the car behind jumps from his vehicle, runs forward, and kicks a dent in the door of the front car, angrily yelling and waving his arms all the while. The driver of that car, startled by this assault, opens his door so forcefully that he hits the assailant in the face, breaking his nose.
With blood gushing from his nostrils, the injured man slams the driver’s door closed just as the driver is getting out, pinning him between it and the car, breaking his leg. Enraged now, and in pain, the driver grabs a gun from his console, aims it at the bleeding man, and shoots him.
Can you imagine such a scenario? Can you imagine the anger? And the escalation? I can, although perhaps the whole thing is a touch melodramatic. So, consider this less-lethal example and see what you think.
A comedian on stage at an awards show cracks a rather tasteless joke about a woman in the audience, a woman who suffers from a physical affliction over which she has no control. Her husband, offended by what he sees as a gratuitous attack, immediately rushes to the stage, approaches the comedian, and sucker-punches him with an open-handed slap. He then returns to his seat in front of a dumbstruck audience of hundreds in the theatre, and millions more watching on live television. Once there, he exchanges loud, profane threats with the comedian, who shortly thereafter exits the stage.
Several minutes later, that same husband is back on stage to receive an award for his acting accomplishments, an appearance the assembled audience greets with a standing ovation. Can you imagine such a scenario where anger and violence are so freely condoned?
Of course, we don’t have to imagine this second example because it actually occurred. But consider what might have taken place if things had unfolded differently. Imagine instead if the angry husband had marched to the stage, approached the clueless comedian, and seized the microphone from his hand. Imagine if he had then explained to the man, and to everyone in the audience, why he and his wife were offended by the joke, why it was in poor taste, and how it might have detrimentally affected others hearing it who are also afflicted with a physical disability.
Imagine if he had explained how humour doesn’t have to be hurtful in order to be amusing. Imagine if he had asked the comedian to apologize, then and there, to anyone who might have been offended. And finally, imagine if he had then told the man he forgives him for his mistake. Had he done these things, I believe he would have returned to his seat to an even more enthusiastic and deserved standing ovation, this one in recognition, not of his acting achievement, but of his actions—an acknowledgment and appreciation of his ability to seize the opportunity and render it a teachable moment.
Violence and physical assault are never okay—not between disputatious individuals, not between warring gangs or political parties (the difference becoming less and less discernible all the time), and not between sovereign nations. Violence and physical assault are never okay.
I regret the loss of civil discourse in our society, where people holding different points of view could meet in the middle to discuss matters rationally, civilly, and with a propensity to listen and learn from one another. Instead now, we have people retreating in high dudgeon to their respective corners, where they launch slings and arrows at each other, designed to wound and demean their opponents, to deliberately spread calumny and misinformation.
We have become a degenerate society, one diminishing ever more rapidly as a result of our rush to anger, our seemingly-insatiable need to feel aggrieved. Rather than seeking to lift each other up, to bolster and propagate our shared comity, we are rushing pell-mell toward the lowest common denominator.
And that’s a pity.