If you feel there has been a change in temperament over the past few years, you’re not the only one. The world has become more tense, polarised, and more likely to explode in violence. People are angry. You see it in the divisive online rhetoric, entrenched workplace politics, increasing societal divisions, and the regional wars that have erupted.
The team at TomorrowToday identified Angry People as one of the grey elephants in the room; a force that is accelerating transformation in the 2020s.
Driving this trend are decades of increasing social disparity and economic inequality. People feel left behind when the gap between themselves and the rich grows bigger over time; and with that comes fear. Uncertainty about the future, exacerbated by the pace of change, further amplifies those fears. This has led to a pervasive loss of trust in society, as the contracts between people and authority are eroded. Perversely, this has also opened up opportunities for leaders to harness and mobilise people’s fears for their own, often evil, purposes.
The situation in Palestine is one example of the explosive nature of current affairs. I have rarely witnessed such fiery sentiment towards a situation. Globally, fear has risen in Jewish, Muslim, and Arabic communities as hate crimes have surged. In the USA, a six-year-old boy was stabbed by his landlord allegedly because of his religion and the ongoing conflict in Palestine.
We should recognise that this heightened tension and the angry flare-ups impact us. While occasional stress isn’t a bad thing and could be a catalyst for change, permanent stress is damaging to every aspect of our lives. It can lead to high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety and cause heart disease and inflammation. It damages our personal relationships and causes people to disengage at work. We also know that heightened fear often leads to poor decision-making, especially when it comes to money.
If we are to flourish at this moment, we must acknowledge that we live amongst angry people. We should be honest about our own anger and mindful of how leaders are using anger to mobilise people for their causes. We should also be extremely careful because artificial intelligence and angry people combined mean that we can be easily manipulated and misled.
On a personal level, we can choose to disengage from anger. It is seldom helpful, for example, to participate in social platforms where it is too easy to spew hateful words at strangers. I have found that the more removed I am from ongoing news streams, the better it is for my mental well-being and my decision-making ability. I try to find balanced, well-researched commentary rather than following hourly sensational news flows.
This is not to say that the reasons people are angry are not real. They are – we just need to look at our own South African environment to know that this is true. But we also need to remind ourselves that anger is most often rooted in fear or frustration. Perhaps the best thing we can do for ourselves, and others, is to reach out in empathy and have people to turn to for empathy. Even better, hug someone, or find someone to hug you! Let that be the start at least.
In this way, we can collectively calm down.