Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Detached Outrage


Let’s face it— I’ve lived in La La Land most of my life. The San Francisco I’ve known is more likely to be guided by Dr. King’s “the arc of the moral universe is long , but it bends towards justice” than “screw the other guy before he screws you.” The school I’ve worked at has been committed to treating children— and each other—kindly with a deep faith in their “imaginative, intellectual and humanitarian promise” (our mission statement).  The field of Orff Schulwerk is strewn with colorful wildflowers inviting all who participate to skip gaily around holding hands. It has made for a mostly lovely life and the rare opportunity to attempt to co-create with others Gandhi’s “change we want to see in the world.”

But it has its downside. When your ideal expectations are thwarted, you feel outraged, betrayed, shocked. When you expect things to work, you’re indignant when they don’t. When you assume good intentions, you’re confused when people treat you badly. When poor decisions are made, your youthful idealism becomes a laughable naiveté. How to navigate the treacherous waters when vision meets the “real world?” How to keep the sweet from turning bitter, how to avoid being eaten away by your own outrage?

Mr. Mose Allison, that wise and clever bluesman who’s been around the block a few times, has a great suggestion in the form of a 12-bar blues:

If life is driving you to drink, you’re sittin’ around wonderin’ just what to think,
Well, I got some consolation, I’ll give it to you if I might.
I don’t worry about a thing ‘cause I know nothin’s gonna be alright.

This world is just one big trouble spot, some have plenty, some have not,
I used to be trouble, but I finally saw the light.
Now I don’t worry about a thing ‘cause I know nothin’s gonna be alright.

Don’t waste your time tryin’ to be a go-getter,
Things will get worse before they get any better
You know there’s always someone playin’ around with dynamite.
But I don’t worry about a thing ‘cause I know nothin’s gonna be alright.

Amen, brother! Yes, incompetent people will rise to the top. Yes, power will cloud vision. Yes, good-hearted people will be silent when they should speak up. Yes, decisions are apt to be made that lean more toward comfort than courage, personal gain than service, protecting privilege than including the dispossessed, sheer stupidity than deep thinking. Yes, the American Hustlers and Wolves of Wall Street are all around us, preying on our naiveté and our innocent assumptions of good intentions.

So without turning cynical, giving up on hope, losing your capacity for outrage, without taking your eyes off the prize, lower your expectations. Sleep on the floor so you won’t be so battered when pushed off the bed. Keep a sense of humor. Don’t be surprised by the next incomprehensible decision from above. Greet it with a wink, “Ah, here you are. I’ve been expecting you. What is it this time?” Give your whiny little child five minutes and then shake him or her awake and get back to the world of pro-action over re-action. Practice detached outrage.

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