Can’t We All Just Chill Out a Bit?

I am old enough to remember mood rings and able to admit I owned one. They were a fad in the 1970s, invented in 1975, the year I graduated high school and headed to college. And if anyone needs a gauge for mood,  it is a freshman in college.

More than four decades ago, two New York inventors bonded liquid crystals with quartz stones to create liquid crystal thermometers that would change color when they detected the outside temperature of a person’s skin from the ring’s finger. As we all know, we physically heat up when we are mad and cool down when we are calm. It’s why people say, "Chill out" to someone who is having a meltdown or is a hot head. They literally mean it. Simmer down. Take a chill pill. Cool off.

I have no idea where my mood ring went — probably tossed it in the late 70s when the mood was right. But I do know the bright violet color of the ring signified you were happy. Shifting to more blue meant you were calm. If your ring stone turned green, it meant you were feeling kind of bleh. Yellow might mean the rise of tensions and brown meant you were downright stressed out.

Like pet rocks — I had one of those, too — mood rings were in vogue for a few years, then fell off in popularity. The reason I am reminiscing about them is I think we need to find some new form of emotional measurement for the masses. An "angerometer" perhaps. Something to keep each of us in check to avoid public displays of irrational emotion — a tool or outward indicator to limit our outrageous behaviors, because common sense alone is not doing it.

Why is this urgent? Because a dangerous level of incivility has begun to envelop our culture like surround sound. Whether I am watching fist fights on television at a protest rally, witnessing a brawl on public transportation, sitting quietly in a meeting where coworkers are not using their inside voices, or seeing someone wave Mr. Tall Man to me on the expressway, it seems clear that far too many people are far too angry. A lot of the time. 

If the voices of their parents in their heads telling them to behave is not enough or has long been silenced, then they need another form of emotional barometer to know when what they are doing is simply not acceptable in polite society.

I understand I am neither perfect nor happy all the time. I also understand many people have a lot to be angry about. But the irony is the people I know who deal regularly with massive amounts of inconvenience, injustice and heartaches, are the ones who seem to deal with life in the most gracious, polite and generous ways.

Of course, I am not a therapist, psychiatrist, sociologist, psychologist or anthropologist studying cultures and emotional behaviors. I just know that in my lifetime, I have never seen so much vitriol bandied about as if it is OK to name-call, bully, shout, yell, throw a tantrum or worse, just because you are upset. I don’t know

the answer but I do know that anger can be contagious. And it can’t be a good thing if so many of us are furious so much of the time.  

Today’s apparent level of pent-up anger prompts a recollection of the movie "Network" from the 70s, when the television commentator, Howard Beale, shouted his diatribe on live television: "We know things are bad. Worse than bad. They’re crazy." He then goes into full-blown maniac mode and gestures wildly into the camera, "I want you to get mad. I want all of you to yell, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.’" And with that, in the movie, millions of people around the country opened their windows and screamed to demonstrate their anger. 

Yes, it was a just a movie, and an old movie at that. But I feel sometimes as if I am in a movie — when a stranger sends me a violent e-mail; or a person in line at the grocery store is mean to the worker at the cash register, ranting about something, anything, nothing; or I watch a politician shout hateful comments. 

People who live in polite society should know better. Behave better. The answer may not be anachronistic mood rings for all. But in real life, we need to find some way to change our moods from worse to better.