Cars driving at ridiculous speed and rushing between cars like stunts on a movie set.
Road rage erupts into gunshots.
Behavior in airplanes similar to an MMA match.
School board meetings requiring police presence.
Social media trolling that has no bottom.
Nurses should be equipped with panic buttons.
A murder rate that has increased by almost a third in 2020 – the highest increase ever – that has increased again in 2021.
Even a physical attack during the presentation of an Oscar.
What’s wrong with people?
If you are asking yourself this question, you are not alone. Something has really changed with the way a lot of people act. It’s as if the events of the past couple of years have somehow given us permission to rush to our lowest instincts and interact with others in ways we don’t. never imagined.
But why? Why have the pandemic, the masks, the quarantines encouraged us to act so terribly?
An article in the Atlanticwritten by Olga Khazan, interviewed more than a dozen experts on crime, psychology, and social norms and worked through several possible explanations for why, during the pandemic, “disorderly, rude, and disorderly conduct seems s be prevalent as far as baking bread and Bridgerton.”
1. We are all stressed out. One of the most obvious explanations for the surge in bad behavior is the “rage, frustration and stress that is going through society right now.” Christine Porath, a business professor at Georgetown University, collected data on why people misbehave and found that “by far the #1 reason was feeling stressed or overwhelmed.” Ryan Martin, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay who studies anger, notes that when someone “has that feeling of anger, it’s because of a combination of some kind of provocation.” And today, people feel constantly provoked, from staff shortages to requests for masks. And our moods don’t help because there’s a collective animosity towards others.
2. We abuse substances. Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry at Stanford, notes that “many of these incidents involve someone using a substance…. related to aggression, come from substances Drug overdoses have increased since 2019 and drug treatment has been hampered by COVID.
3. We are social beings and isolation changes us. As noted in the Atlantic: “The pandemic has loosened the bonds between people: children have stopped going to school; their parents have stopped going to work; parishioners stopped going to church; people stopped gathering, in general. And as Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist who studies social unrest, notes, “we are more likely to break the rules when our ties to society are weakened…. When we become free, we tend to prioritize our own private interests over those of others or the public. As Khazan writes,
The early 20th century scholar Émile Durkheim called this state anomie, or a lack of social norms that leads to anarchy. “We are moral beings insofar as we are social beings,” writes Durkheim. In the past two years we have ceased to be social and in many cases we have also ceased to be moral.
And that, in my view, is the crux of the matter. Whatever reasons we might give ourselves to justify or overlook bad behavior, the fact is that we are moral creatures acting immorally. It’s like we’ve taken the stress and the isolation and let it become a license to sin.
So, will things get better as everything related to COVID falls by the wayside? May be. But I fear a more likely scenario is that, just as the pandemic has taken existing cultural undercurrents and accelerated them,
… he did the same with our lack of morality.
James Emery White
Olga Khazan, “Why Do People Act So Weirdly?” AtlanticMarch 30, 2022, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the assistant professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His last book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.