Everyone seems to be angry these days, but maintaining composure can help calm people around us. (Photo by Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash)
Everyone seems angry, cheated, entitled, resentful, deprived — new American norms afflicting every walk of life — from viral Karens and road-raging Kens to berserker travelers and conspiratorial lawmakers.
What has happened to Americans in the past decade?
Many blame fake news. Others, social media. And some say we’re responding psychologically to real depredation and disenfranchisement.
Whatever the cause, many of us seem to lack composure. Simply defined, composure is a feeling of calmness in the wake of criticism or crisis, knowing we have the wherewithal to handle any situation that might arise.
Life is difficult enough without coronavirus. Wearing masks is sensible and essential. But that has triggered all manner of rebellion, covering the mouth and shrouding identity when many of us want to air complaints.
A New York Times article, “The March of the Karens,” associates that name with “a type of interfering, hectoring white woman, the self-appointed hall monitor unloosed on the world,” demanding to speak to police for trivial or imaginary transgressions.
There is no consensus about the name of the male version of Karen, although “Ken” is gaining traction. He is described as an entitled snob, never satisfied with anything, “a jerk to the waiting staff, who always wants to speak to the manager.”
The Times article makes a salient observation. A Karen or Ken “has only words as weapons, and those words no longer hold as much power as they once did.” As a result, they resort to people with real power to enforce their wishes, and they resist.”
That enrages them.
Pandemic pique, road rage
A biting rebuke of this reaction is Late Show host Stephen Colbert’s satiric rendering of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” with the theme changed to “I’m begging you, please just wear a mask.”
Masks have sparked a rise in unruly airline passengers, with the Federal Aviation Administration levying more than $1 million in fines. Between January and August 2021, the FAA logged 3,889 reports of unruly behavior, “nearly three-fourths of which were passengers who allegedly refused to comply with the federal face mask mandate in airports and on airplanes.”
Anger doesn’t abate when traveling in cars and trucks, with or without masks. In the past seven years, some 12,610 injuries and 218 murders have been attributed to road rage. A statistical report attributes causes to drunk driving, mental breakdowns and emotional strain.
Americans are feeling emotional strain because of partisan politics. According to Science Daily, “Nearly 40% of Americans surveyed for a new study said politics is stressing them out, and 4% — the equivalent of 10 million U.S. adults — reported suicidal thoughts related to politics.”
A 2016 report by the Pew Research Center found for the first time since 1992, “majorities in both parties express not just unfavorable but very unfavorable views of the other party.” Some 55% of Democrats are afraid of Republicans and 49% of Republicans are afraid of Democrats.
An article in Psychology Today titled “The Politics of Fear” explains how politicians use that emotion to divide us, often with the media’s help. “Fear is a very strong tool that can blur humans’ logic and change their behavior.”
Americans were fearful before the pandemic. Fear is at its zenith. An article in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders notes that fear is a normal response to the presence of danger. “However, when threat is uncertain and continuous, as in the current coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, fear can become chronic and burdensome.”
We see segments regularly on the news. Fear is at the heart of rage in stores, cars, planes, and on the floor of Congress. Everyone wants to speak their mind no matter whom it hurts or offends.
As Benjamin Franklin once observed, “Thinking aloud is a habit which is responsible for most of mankind’s misery.”
The solution: composure
The antidote is composure. There is a dearth of it at the moment, but it is not yet dead.
Forbes published a useful article about how to maintain composure during difficult times. Here are recommendations:
- Do not take things personally, allowing emotions to dominate your day.
- Keep a positive mental attitude and project confidence in everyday activities.
- Act decisively when situations warrant but also be accountable for your actions.
- Remain calm in crises. Speak less. Listen more.
Those are easy to remember but hard to practice. But the more you do, the more others will heed and model that behavior, especially at the workplace.
To effect this, Franklin practiced a daily routine. When he awoke each morning, he envisioned the good he would do in the world. When he went to bed each night, he reflected on how well he lived up to his intentions.
For better or worse, all of us wear the mask of moral character that no cloth covering can conceal. Composure reflects that character, enabling you to rise above the daily vexations that plague us.REPUBLISH
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Michael Bugeja is the author of “Living Media Ethics” (Routledge/Taylor & Francis) and “Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine” (Oxford Univ. Press). He is a regular contributor to Iowa Capital Dispatch and is writing a series of columns on the topic of “Living Ethics.”