Friday, June 28, 2013

Outrage Lite


“If  you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

I like this bumper sticker. Not enough to buy one, but then again, I don’t need to— I’m living it. Outrage is my constant companion these days and truth be told, it’s not always the best company. Good for a vigorous walk around the block, but not the person you want to wake up next to or hug goodnight.

For reasons far beyond my understanding, I seem to have the same capacity for outrage at near 62-years old as the 12-year old finding out for the first time about the slave trade. “Do you guys know about this?!! Slavery sucks!!!” I also seem to have the bad luck to actually pay attention to the things going on around me and these days, that act of attention mostly ends in indignation, disbelief, anger, disappointment and…well, outrage.

I believe in outrage. It serves a noble purpose and the world would be less without it. But when it starts becoming the state you live in, even if for understandable reasons, it starts to get toxic. Not only for your own health and well-being, but for anyone who has the misfortune to be in striking distance and expected to share your dismay. We need the option of ordering Outrage Lite. 

So I tried an experiment today. Instead of expecting the things I consider sane and just and compassionate and true to cross my threshold, I imagined that something else outrageous was going to happen and instead of being shocked, I should just be curious as to what form it was going to take. Then go out and greet it calmly, “Oh, there you are. Good to see you again. Wow! Nice suit. Looking good as you wreak havoc.”

Sure enough, two things came in through the proverbial mail slot that normally would raise my blood pressure and merit the now customary, “What the &$%#?!!!” response. Instead, I just said, “Well, isn’t that interesting?” and went on with my day.

And here’s the amazing thing. It worked!!! I felt light and dispassionate and untouched by it all. Of course, people I know will be hurt by it or our capacity to think and feel will be diminished, but for once in my life, I took the mainstream stance: “Hey, it’s not my problem.” It felt great!! Why am I beating my head against the wall of some vision of the world the way it “should be” and the way it is? Just accept it all, get through, keep my head down and my mouth shut and hope for the best. What a great strategy! Why didn’t I think of this before?

Are you detecting a little sarcasm here? Oh, you clever reader. But there is a hint of seriousness. It does feel great not to keep trying to kick the football that gets snatched away. It’s a relief having shouldered the burden of a caring beyond reason to set it down for a moment. It’s a brilliant thought that at least some of the energy spent brooding and fuming and writing and talking to others might be better spent mastering Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin on the piano.

Do I care about the people who will bear the consequences of a dubious decision? Yes, I do. But for now all I can do is play the piano on their behalf.

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