I heard an interesting theory this past week in the Cracked Podcast about how we as a society are becoming addicted to outrage. We open our phones or turn on the TV to the latest tweet or story designed to raise our hackles. The conclusion reached in the podcast is that this cannot possibly be healthy. Outrage triggers hormone releases in the brain that give us a sense of excitement, that can ultimately be addicting. Psychopaths were also discussed on this same podcast in that psychopaths are generally plagued by a severe sense of boredom that only increasingly intense risks can assuage. It might even seem as though our whole society has become psychopathic because each new tweet or story must be that much more outrageous to even register anymore.
Jesus talked about this anger in his Sermon on the Mount. He discusses just how important forgiveness and patience with one another is. One aspect of his teaching we don’t often talk about is contempt. He talks about contempt in a couple of contexts. The first is the progression of anger. Yoda said that fear leads to anger, anger to hate, and hate to the dark side, and Jesus said something similar: anger leads to judgment, abusive language leads to litigation, and contempt leads to the fires of Gehenna – destruction. (The phrase translated “You fool” could easily be modernized to “@#$& you” or any highly offensive racial epithet and maintain a little more of its original punch.”
Consider that Jesus’ main thrust is to consider others as important, as children of God, as worth our attention, love, and compassion. Contempt removes all of those things. Contempt allows a person to strip away love, compassion, and mercy, and leave only hatred. Contempt removes the humanity of the other. It is, in fact, the board that causes us to have a problem removing the speck in our brother’s eye.
Say you had a surgeon who was the best in the world. Her hands could deftly remove and repair any problem the body could throw her way. Now, imagine that she hates you. Imagine that she is the only person capable of operating on your successfully, but she doesn’t even see you as human. Would you trust her to perform the surgery?
Now consider that so many of us have blind spots of contempt – we have boards that are blocking us from seeing clearly. Those boards may cover people with a different denomination, a different skin color, culture, language, or maybe a different tax bracket, or maybe even someone who has just wronged us in the past. If at any point we are unable to extend grace, love, or forgiveness, we may have found a board that we need to remove. We will never be able to carefully, lovingly correct someone else if our vision is blinded by our own contempt.
Contempt is what led to the holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Stalinist purges, and the lynching and civil rights abuses of our own United States. Contempt is what keeps the right and left from negotiating politically. Contempt is what keeps many Christian groups from working together. Contempt is the board we have carried around for far too long.
Am I free from this? Of course not. Do I have to work constantly to find boards that I never noticed before? Yes. Our outrage culture is cultivating a false narrative that contempt is healthy, and even necessary. A society cannot be built on outrage and contempt… otherwise we will see our story devolve in something monstrous and hateful. A legacy of contempt invites only derision, and that is if it is remembered at all.
How does your language model healthy compassion for others? Are there any people or groups that you see as less? How might you begin the process of developing true compassion for them? What kind of example does outrage and contempt set for our children?