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The Minimalists
The Minimalists are Emmy-nominated Netflix stars and New York Times–bestselling authors Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Alongside their podcast cohost, T.K. Coleman, this simple-living trio helps millions of people eliminate clutter and live meaningfully with less. Learn More.

Fake Outrage: Dealing with Criticism

There are times when Outrage is an appropriate reaction to current events. The Twin Towers, cheating spouses, and violent crimes—all injustices, all valid reasons for momentary rage.

Most of the time, however, our Outrage is unwarranted: we shouldn’t be offended—but we are. This is especially true within the context of today’s Internet culture. Social media has become a breeding ground for armchair criticism, faux discontent, and passive-aggressive “disappointment,” a place in which we attempt to (paradoxically) decree our building tallest by ridiculing every nearby structure.

And so there we sit, glued to our keyboards and glowing terminals, stewing in a disturbing mixture of anger and schadenfreude, as we scroll through the endless stream, waiting for the next politically incorrect gaffe to ignite our flame of fake indignation. Rarely is a meaningful discussion even attempted. (Just take one look at the comments on any popular YouTube video.)

Within recent years, the Outrage has amped up considerably, making room for endless commentary on banal pop-culture happenings: the perils of Deflategate, a former Olympian’s new pronoun, Anthony Weiner’s wiener—not to mention a dozen new presidential candidates who have entered a race in which the main qualification seems to be Outrage for whatever is said by their opponents—all of which have incited tantrums from both sides of each “issue.”

But who cares? Well, sadly, the answers seems to be everybody! Because everyone has the tools to be an amateur critic, there are scores of trolls waiting to disgorge their opposing viewpoint.

Even your authors—The Minimalists—aren’t immune to the wrath of the fuming masses. A topic as seemingly innocuous as minimalism somehow infuriates hundreds, if not thousands, of noisy keyboard mercenaries. Without good reason, the self-righteous are offended by that which doesn’t really affect them (organized hoarding, blue humor, and naughty words are particularly ripe topics); and because they’ve decided that someone else’s lifestyle is somehow an affront to their own, they reflexively spout their gibberish in an attempt to justify a viewpoint that nobody asked them to justify in the first place.

We’ve all done this at some point: we’ve all gotten offended without asking ourselves why and then used our fake Outrage to cast judgment upon others. We do this—we judge people—because it helps us feel better, and pretending to be offended is much easier than attempting to breach the walls of introspection. But this good feeling is fleeting, of course, and so we judge more and more in an attempt to give grounds for our initial judgment, all the while increasing our dose of Outrage. It’s an ugly downward spiral, and from a spectator’s distance—standing far from the backlog of comments and posts and @replies—the enraged look like fools, because, when we step away and observe, we soon realize that this kind of judgment says more about the judge than the judged. After all, judgment is but a mirror reflecting the insecurities of the person who’s doing the judging.

True, we all judge, but it is best to do so with reason, respect, and empathy, rather than the rage, resentment, and disdain that have suffused our everyday lives. But the truth is that, for the vast majority of us, most Outrage-inducing events are irrelevant, and thus the Outrage itself is a waste of time. Few people are affected by deflated footballs or transgender celebrities, and yet we act as if these events directly shape our lives—we judge, we throw in our (unsolicited) two cents—and then feel a particular kind of emptiness when the dust clears and all that remains is a heap of hurt feelings.

Allowing others to offend us is natural—a default setting—but it is also unnecessary. An offended man or woman is a defenseless man or woman. But it doesn’t have to be this way—at least not on an individual level. We can choose not to be offended.

Stop it.
Let it go.
Change the channel.
Turn it off.
Walk away.

Outrage is a fool’s errand, and unless you’re a fool, you needn’t carry the weight of another person’s burden. Let the fools do their own heavy lifting.

Perhaps what we need is a reduced dose of Outrage and a higher dosage of Letting Go. You see, letting go of Outrage is not the same as embracing Apathy—Outrage and Apathy are obverse sides of the same coin. By refusing to be offended by life’s minutia, we refuse to step into Outrage’s blast radius, and thus we refuse to cast judgment arbitrarily. Ultimately, avoiding the Outrage is how we can approach controversial and interesting topics with honest, worthwhile discussions.

Even when an occasion warrants Outrage—murder, racism, game six of the NBA finals—what we do with our ire is a different story. Just because our emotions are justified, that doesn’t mean we’re required to acquiesce. Rarely does acting out of rage—justified or not—lead to a desirable outcome.

Besides, the only person who has the right to worry about deflating Tom Brady’s balls is Gisele Bundchen. (And if that joke offends you, then please go back to the top and read this essay again.)