WHY would I give any oxygen to culture wars when I could just be happy?

We’ve all experienced it – that pull to engage with the latest provocative headline or soundbite demanding our outrage. In today’s hyper-stimulating media environment, outrage has become a commodity, a currency to attract clicks, rally bases and deflect from real issues. But with every emotional reaction, we sacrifice a piece of our mental wellbeing and bandwidth.

As the noise intensifies, preserving one’s sanity depends on being selective about where we direct our attention. It’s not about avoiding difficult discussions or dissent, but prioritising constructive engagement over constant reactionary debates. Some people out there use outrage as a tool to grab our attention, but I’ve reached a point where I don’t want to play along anymore.

Looking back, I remember a time when I fell into this trap. I retweeted a cover from a far-right French magazine called Valeurs Actuelles. I was trying to call out their racist and offensive content, but a friend wisely told me that sometimes, silence can be more powerful. By reacting, I was giving them exactly what they wanted – attention, a growing Twitter storm, more sales, and a false sense of importance.

At the time, I disagreed with my friend. I was very annoyed, even. I believed that we, especially as progressives, had a duty to confront intolerance and extremism head-on, all the time. Zero tolerance, I thought, was the only stance to adopt, as these ideologies can have lethal consequences.

Today, I see that those who engage in inflammatory debates aren’t interested in genuine discussions. They do it to spread fear and chaos, and it’s a calculated strategy.

They benefit from the attention, the clicks – suddenly they appear in TV shows, write newspaper columns, and are presented as relevant voices in a democratic debate. Valeurs Actuelles, for example, has mastered the art of stirring controversy with outrageous covers a few times a year. But I’ve decided not to fall for it anymore.

By disengaging thoughtfully, we can take back control (ha!) of the conversation.

More recently, this was brought into sharp focus for me as yet another manufactured controversy swirled through the news cycle.

Scottish Tory MP and junior minister Andrew Bowie defended the position this week that proposals for more walkable, bikeable neighbourhoods were actually a nefarious plot to control citizens’ lives. Never mind that no credible organisation was actually advocating for dictating people’s movements: the clear goal was to seed outrage, with no grounding in reality.

As the journalist questioning him pushed back on the lack of evidence, the minister doubled down with vague allusions to infringements on “liberties”.

But liberty from what, exactly? Watching the cycle play out yet again, I found myself exhausted at the prospect of engaging. Not because the issue of urban planning wasn’t worthy of discussion, but because this particular “debate” was a solution in search of a problem.

Frankly, I don’t have the energy for it. I’m a mum with a chronic lack of sleep and too much of a mental load: so I’ll spend my energy on things that might lead somewhere, not circular arguments meant solely to inflame emotions, thank you very much.

Last week, it was Home Secretary Suella Braverman who made another extreme intervention about immigration. Remarkably, even Priti Patel appears to see through her claims.

Patel, not typically one to challenge more hardline positions on immigration and national identity, acknowledged Braverman’s comment that “multiculturalism has failed” may have simply been an attempt “to get attention”. She recognised such inflammatory rhetoric risks prioritising provocation over meaningful policy changes.

The former home secretary’s opinion makes me hope that there is an acknowledgement that tolerance for this kind of rhetoric has worn thin, even among conservative ranks.

Of course, important issues will still warrant an emotional response at times. But we have to thoughtfully evaluate whether any particular provocation truly merits our energy or risks contributing more heat than light. Not every exaggerated claim or sensationalised headline needs amplifying, even if to oppose it.

For me, preserving my mental wellbeing means setting boundaries on when and how I participate in public debates. It means choosing battles strategically rather than reacting impulsively. My energy is best spent on discussions and efforts that align with my values of inclusiveness, compassion, and fact-based decision making.

That might mean calling out misinformation calmly with facts. It could mean redirecting conversations to specific policy solutions rather than vague cultural grievances. The goal is to model and encourage a higher level of discourse, not stoop to meet inflammatory rhetoric where it stands.

Some may argue that disengaging risks being seen as passive or complicit. It doesn’t have to be. It requires advocating for changes to how we approach public debates and journalism’s role in society.

We must hold media organisations and politicians accountable to ethical standards that don’t incentivise outrage or the spreading of misinformation.

Likewise, social media platforms must address how their algorithms promote and amplify fury-loaded content for user engagement. Nothing will change if the very systems shaping public discourse continue to reward polarisation.

As citizens, we can also consider where we direct our attention and pounds. By supporting outlets committed to factual reporting and nuanced discussions (there are many of them out there), we send a signal about the type of journalism – and politics – that benefits society. At the same time, we must be discerning in what headlines and claims we amplify on our own networks.

But taking a step back from the endless cycle of outrage is an act of self-advocacy. In a world of constant information overload, which can lead to burnout and stress, recognising the need for mental preservation is a valid and necessary form of self-care. After all, our ability to show up constructively depends on having the bandwidth left to do so.

For me, it looks like surrounding myself with art, community and experiences that uplift my spirit and nourish my reflection rather than deplete it. Making time for creativity, nature, family and friendship recharges me in a way that reactive debates simply don’t.

That fullness of spirit is what then allows me to bring more light when discussions do emerge.

By thoughtfully removing ourselves from outrage bait and focusing on encouraging more constructive exchanges, I believe we can shift public debates in a healthier direction.

The temptation of outrage will always be there, as long as emotions sell. But we no longer need to give into the game so easily, especially at the cost of our wellbeing. They merit nothing but our disdain. Let’s starve them of our attention and brain space; they’re undeserving of it, and we don’t need them.

With these words, I’m going to close Twitter; I swear it’s like a soul-draining vampire. Instead, I’ll dive into Julia Cagé and Thomas Piketty’s latest book, A History of Political Conflict: Elections and Social Inequalities in France, which argues, with election data since the French Revolution, that exploiting immigration is a losing strategy for the left.

Or maybe I’ll indulge in the latest episode of Strictly Come Dancing ... that’s still the best remedy against doom and gloom!