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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Outrage, Offense, and Global Outbreaks

Written by: on March 5, 2020

I had lunch today with the Vice President of Student Affairs at our local university. I had invited him specifically to get his take on Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. I wanted to hear how about how our university (where my son attends) helps prepare students for a world full of competing, diverse, even offensive ideas. We exchanged pleasantries at the restaurant and I asked him about his day. He said he had spent the morning putting protocols in place to prepare the campus should the coronavirus make its way to our town.

So far as I know, COVID-19 is not yet in my little corner of north Texas- at least not the actual virus. Our local news media have not reported any instances, nor have the hospitals released any information regarding public health. But while the virus may not (yet) be in our midst, it’s on our minds. We watch the stock markets react to concerns about supply chains. Like my friend from the university, our church staff are having conversations regarding door greeters, offering plates, communion, nursery toys and supplies, etc., but we are still only dealing in the hypothetical.  Opinions about the outbreak have spread, as have generalizations, speculations, and some conspiracy theories.

For my part, I have become a little more intentional about healthy hygiene practices. I am currently operating from an assumption that this particular pandemic will likely rank among bird flu and swine flu (to name a couple) in the echelon of global health events, certainly something to address, especially for the most vulnerable in our populations, but nothing we need to panic and lose our minds about.

The problem is, we seem to enjoy losing our minds over things. Today’s culture and the way information is shared align perfectly for the spread of “dis-ease” among us. Outrage is stirred and offense is taken as easily as breathing in the vapor droplets of a stranger’s sneeze from twenty feet away. (Yes, I know that’s a gross image!)

Sickness can spread fast on a college campus. Students are often in close proximity to one another. Their immune systems might be already compromised by the stress and pressures of their schedules. And many colleges celebrate students who come from other parts of the country as well as other parts of the world. And like a virus, outrage and offense can flow across a campus as a provocative idea turns into a controversy that, if not contained, can erupt into a crisis overnight.

My university friend told me of a situation that had occurred the previous year in which a graduate student at the school was “outed” as a member of a white supremacist organization. This student was well-liked by professors and classmates, earned good grades, and had no record of any problems. The discovery was made when a closed social media group was hacked and this student’s private views were made public. Students on campus, as well as their parents, demanded that the student be expelled.

In a paper that would become the launching point for their book, Lukianoff and Haidt argue that “students should be taught how to live in a world full of potential offenses.”[1] Yet we seem to like being angry. Brant Hansen writes, “people thrive on being offended. It makes us feel more righteous to get aggravated at the behavior of other people.”[2] Outrage and offense may stir our emotions and perhaps give us a sense of moral superiority, they may even help us feel safer in some strange way,  but they are not our most productive tools.

What if, instead of outrage and offense, students were taught how to listen for understanding and how to express disagreement in respectful and healthy ways? But this must not wait for a college student to attend freshmen orientation. Lukianoff writes, “When it comes to free speech, every single university in the country should explain the philosophy behind freedom of speech, free inquiry, and academic freedom during freshman orientation. Until we start teaching these concepts, the fact that students aren’t showing that they understand them is entirely on us. This is something that we’re doing to a generation. This is on us. This is on parents.”[3]

We parents and educators must own our contributions to the culture we have created and we must, with humility and determination, look for ways to do better. Lukianoff and Haidt devote the final part of their book to ideas and strategies for helping students, universities, and societies become wiser.[4] For a starting point, I offer the words from a wall hanging in my childhood home that featured a poem written in 1972 by Dorothy Nolte. The poem was titled, “Children Live What They Learn.”

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.[5]

What can we do this week to turn our tendencies toward outrage and offense into something more positive and productive so that we might launch an outbreak of respect, love, and hope?

[1] Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” The Atlantic Monthly 316, no. 2 (2015): 42-52. https://search-proquest.com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/docview/1708894607?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo.

[2] Brant Hansen, “Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better,” (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2015,) 13.

[3] Greg Lukianoff, “I Wish We Were Wrong,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 14, 2018, A6+, Gale Academic OneFile. https://link-gale-com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A556107789/AONE?u=newb64238&sid=AONE&xid=39b2dc8

[4] Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure,” (USA: Penguin Books, 2018,) Kindle.

[5] Dorothy Law Nolte, “Children Live What They Learn,” 1972.

About the Author

mm

John McLarty

Husband. Dad. Pastor. Play a little golf.

12 responses to “Outrage, Offense, and Global Outbreaks”

  1. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Fear is a major motivation for why we take offense or why we lose our minds about things. A few weeks ago, I mentioned in our Zoom chat about how a fake message went around Hong Kong several weeks ago saying that the factories were going to stop producing toilet paper (and condoms) in order to produce more masks. Within the day, the shelves were empty of both. I remember walking into the supermarket to buy groceries and when I looked toward the back of the store where they keep toilet paper, it was as if the Grinch had swooped in and stolen everything. My housemate messaged our house chat one day saying a new shipment of toilet paper had arrived at a nearby pharmacy that was about a 30 second walk from our flat. He said one of our friends needed some and asked us to grab a package. In the 5 minutes it took to receive the message, put on shoes, and walk outside, it had already been picked clean.

    Media plays a major role in distributing information – whether false or true. However, because of the culture of safetyism that pervades our thoughts, we’ve slowly lost the ability to think critically about what we see and allow sensationalism to cloud our judgments.

    • mm John McLarty says:

      You’re absolutely right about the power of fear. In the example I shared about the white supremacist on campus, I didn’t go into what my university friend said was behind all of the outrage- the students were genuinely afraid of the person, afraid that his extremist views made it more likely that he was capable of violence. This generation of young people (GenZ/iGen) has never known an American not at war, has grown up learning active shooter drills, products of 24/7 news, never been without a computer in their hands. It’s no wonder fear motivates them (along with the rest of society) to outrage, offense, and panic.

  2. mm Greg Reich says:

    John,

    You wrote “Outrage is stirred and offense is taken as easily as breathing in the vapor droplets of a stranger’s sneeze from twenty feet away.” This is a powerful image of how in today’s culture we have become hypersensitive to everything. Even the simplest and most innocent of comments can be cause for outrage. For me the concept of having a rhino hide and a doves heart seems to be the best practice.

    • mm John McLarty says:

      That’s a great practice. Unfortunately, many people who are in positions of influence, power, and leadership seem to have paper thin skin and hearts of stone. They are the ones stoking our culture of fear and outrage and our younger people seem to be getting the message loud and clear.

  3. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    John,
    “We parents and educators must own our contributions to the culture we have created and we must, with humility and determination, look for ways to do better.” In your context, what might be some “ways to do better” look like? Would it be appropriate to have those conversations during confirmation classes? Or youth bible studies? Are there groups you can partner with in your community that are polar opposites of yours that would be willing to bring their youth to a gathering with yours to engage in a service project or team building exercise, and then further relationship building for tougher conversations?

    • mm John McLarty says:

      Like you, Darcy, I’ve already sent two GenZ/iGen kids off to college and have one more to go. And I am certainly aware of the ways I’ve participated in the development of this culture. Our church has a comprehensive confirmation experience for 6th graders- but I’ll confess that it’s more about planting seeds of faith than growing kids into mature disciples. Our youth ministry is also a healthy incubator for challenging conversations and experiences, but it only occupies a few hours a week (at most.) I think the sentence you referenced is really about folks like you and me recognizing the unintended consequences of our overfunctioning parental styles. If we want to send kids into the world more prepared for it, that starts in our homes. (Speaking as the person who followed a 15-year-old around the house for 10 minutes this morning just trying to get him to put one dirty sock in the clothes hamper!)

      • Darcy Hansen says:

        Indeed. The conversations often begin at home, but so does the fear mongering and Us v Them mentality. For some kids, the church may be the only place where they see such constructive and diverse dialogue happening. And you are way too funny! The dirty clothes police! What have we become?! 😉

  4. mm Steve Wingate says:

    Opinions about the outbreak have spread…

    We have been learning that we are to bring to peace to the city… which was also conveyed to us by the prophet Jeremiah. To bring peace it seems like we need to address the obvious issues that have spread outbreaking so much that is too one-sided

  5. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Outside of the virus, how did the conversation go? I’d be curious to hear directly from administrators how they view these issues in different parts of the country.

    • mm John McLarty says:

      He said the counselors’ offices are filled and many of the students exhibit similar traits as those with PTSD. The more I look into this, it’s not that these kids are soft, they’ve been traumatized. Sensationalist journalism and 24/7 news, active-shooter drills in their elementary schools, social media that amplifies what should be basic teenage angst. Not all of them, of course, but it’s definitely something that isn’t of their own doing. Colleges are receiving kids who aren’t ready for the world. At the same time, they run the risk of losing them if they can’t accommodate them. It’s a tough place to be right now.

  6. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Well, I’m responding to your blogpost a little late and as of now, the Outbreak is Pandemic and I’m using my garage as a change room in and out of work clothes. Safetyism! How about ‘Social Distancing’? I have never heard of such a thing.

    Outrage and offence to an outbreak of Hope! I so appreciate that. And, what does healthy disagreement look like? It seems that most disagreement has to do with method and approach, some mix-up in the communication. Perhaps, an inquiry as to whether there is a somewhat correct understanding in the first place?

    Could it be that before progressing like a shot into a full-on disagreement that there could at least be the pursuit of an agreement regarding intentions and reasoning? As long as there is not a patronising or controlling flare to this communication, respect and consideration for the other person could result from the outset. Good segue into a more healthy disagreement?

    Thanks John!

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