Earlier this week I had an “Enough is enough!” moment. It was late at night, I was trying to wind down and get to bed, and I made the mistake of reading a news story that upset me terribly. I can’t even remember what the story was about, but I do remember that it pushed a button.
The “Offended by injustice and boiling over with rage” button.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve succumbed to the quick adrenaline fix of the media; in fact, you’d think that I went out looking for stories that were bound to upset me, just so that I could feel that mad rush of emotions. Something was different this time, though. Even as it was happening I was acutely aware of my role in the process, and my responsibility for deliberately putting myself in harm’s way.
Yes, harm. There’s nothing positive about these moments, and enough negatives — in particular, an increase in blood pressure and overall stress — to make this potentially dangerous to physical as well as mental health. It also runs counter to my aspiration to practise more Stoic principles, in particular to focus on things that I can control.
I’m reasonably sure that an event that has already happened, in a place that I’ll probably never go, to people I’ve never met, does not fall into the “things I can control” category.
Sometimes there are concrete ways to participate in putting something right — a kind word, a donation to a fund-raising campaign, contacting someone in government or industry who is in a position to move things in a more positive direction. Sometimes we’re just collateral damage in someone else’s unfortunate story, flailing out in our helplessness and participating by raging.
As I said earlier, enough is enough. Giving in to helpless anger isn’t helping me or anyone else. Indulging it is a bad habit, which means that it can be overwritten by a better habit. The next time I’m faced with this kind of situation, the first thing I intend to do is pause and ask “What should I do about this?” The second thing is to take that action, even if the action is to close the browser window and take a long, deep breath.