The tempting & bitter sides of indignation

by Kristin on September 13, 2012

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by StuartWebster

I was on a bit of a tear yesterday.

First, I got all worked up about a ridiculous blog post that suggests pedestrians who push the crosswalk button are being inconsiderate to those driving cars (yes, it’s more complicated than that, but still—here’s the post, and my comment).

Then I happened to see an Urban Outfitters ad promoting a t-shirt that reads “I Vote for Vodka.” Urban Outfitters is geared toward college students, and I saw the ad while I was visiting a site dedicated to education; in combination, it put me over the edge. How about teaching young people the value of civic engagement, rather than suggesting all is lost so they might as well get drunk? I ranted in my head, and then on Twitter.

I have to admit, it feels good to get all indignant about things. It’s almost like a drug—one that snaps me out of whatever dull monotony I’m stuck in on days when nothing really riles me up. I love feeling my mind shift into that “high alert” gear that gets all the neurons firing at once. I love seeing what happens when the logic of my brain teams up with the fire in my belly. Who needs that second cup of coffee, when you can get all sassy and zigzag-finger-snappy? On those days, the blog posts flow, the witty tweets multiply, and my lunchtime conversations with Jason are sure to be lively.

But there’s also a part of me that cringes when my indignant, argumentative side is roused. It’s the same discomfort I felt when, at my high school reunion, no fewer than three people independently told Jason how I used to argue with and debate teachers. Sure, they said it with admiration, but really? That’s what they remembered most about me? I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

I’m also not sure how to feel about the look that crosses my 12-year-old daughter’s face when I get indignant and outspoken. Sure, she’s at that age when anything I do could embarrass her, but I also know that deep down she’s a sensitive soul, one who’s geared toward peace, kindness, and gentleness. When I’m riled up, she’s uncomfortable, and I can’t simply brush that off.

So what’s a person to do? More specifically, what’s a woman to do? Because I think my gender is an important factor to consider as I sort out my love-hate relationship with this trait. Sure, there are certain topics of conversation and settings where women regularly hold their own or even dominate, but when it comes to issues touching on politics, religion, or economics—or pretty much anything considered academic—men tend to speak up more often, more boldly, and with more conviction. If women are to have a voice in the conversation, we have to let the fire in our bellies fuel our response. And it’s not just something I want to do in the moment, it’s something I want to teach my daughters for the future: Your opinion matters just as much as his. Use your God-given wit and smarts, boldly, when you have something to say.

Of course, gender is not always a factor when I get riled up, but usually some other power or justice issue is. Maybe I’m standing up for the pedestrian over the driver, the student over the teacher, or the poor over the rich. In so many of these cases, being silent is not an alternative I want to consider. (Even when it isn’t a clear justice issue, once the argument has formed in my head, I’m not sure I could bear it if I didn’t speak up. My mind simply won’t rest. In fact, it just might explode.)

If there are so many good reasons to let my indignation drive my words, why does it sometimes leave a bad taste in my mouth?

It’s possible there’s a remnant trace of something in me that feels getting riled up just isn’t very “ladylike.” Culturally, something gives me the sense I should do more smiling and nodding, more supporting of my husband (who I do happen to pretty much always agree with, anyway).

It’s also possible that I’m struggling with the tension of what it means to be a Christian in these situations—on one side there’s the meek, gentle, mild, wise, listening, slow-to-anger Christian, and on the other is the bold, justice-seeking, God-given-mind-using Christian. When I think of it that way, I know many (if not most) of my indignant moments fail to walk that line in a way I can feel good about. I’m all-too capable of taking an “I’m right, you’re wrong” stance, when I could instead focus on presenting another side, another way to broaden the conversation. I know I can get sassy, biting, and strong-willed, in a way that shuts others out.

If it’s that bitter edge of indignation that leaves the bad taste in my mouth, it’s the richness of having a voice that keeps me coming back for another helping. I’m thinking that as long as I include helpings of wisdom and grace, I should be able to balance these complex flavors. But what do you think? What should we do with our indignation?

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  • Joe Jestus

    When I was younger, I enjoyed a good debate. I don’t know if I just mellowed out or I’ve learned there’s always more to the story than I’m seeing. So maybe I have gained a bit more grace with my touch of gray hair. Who knows?

    That said, I think we need to get worked up now and again for those things that truly matter to us and Papa. Although, I think we think a lot more stuff is life and death than He does ;-)

    I tend though to find people are open to change when they ask questions and if they aren’t asking me questions, then I’ve got a better chance of convincing a brick wall of my views than them. It is fun to try still though.

    Oh and you do realize you’re debating yourself now ;-)

  • Jennifer

    Wow. That’s a lot of layers. Female, christian, smart, mother, daughter. Our roles definitely inform how we react to thinks, and how lets perceive our reactions. I know that wheni was a young, brash feminist and I got all finger pointy, I could see they faces of any listeners either light up with agreement or glaze over. Now, I try to limit my outbursts to my husband, but there are some things that just push my buttons. I’m wondering now what you’re wondering: what is the time and place and method for such things? And dammit if it doesn’t bother me that my gender plays a role in how I’m perceived in my opinions. That said, my daughters say they love it when I go on a rant…

  • Kristin T.

    Joe, my guess is that we’ve both mellowed out AND learned that issues aren’t black and white. Here’s to growing older! It also has something to do with that “wisdom to know the difference” prayer, when it comes to what we can and can’t change. (And of course I’m debating myself! That’s what extroverts do when they work alone all day. :)

    Jennifer, SO many layers. Too many. I’m glad you were able to stick with them all, and relate. I don’t know if there is a reliable method for figuring out the time & place for our indignation to be let loose—I guess that’s one more reason to keep praying and asking for guidance, from one situation to the next.

  • Lee Lueck

    If all we do is rant, there’s a problem. But our daughters – and sons – need to see our passion for important issues as we encounter stupidity, ignorance or abuse. It’s important for our kids to see our complex natures – meekness and outrage, grace and judgment, love and hate – as we grapple with how to love well. They’re watching us and learning to navigate their own worlds. And when we realize we’ve gone too far, they get to see what repentance looks like as well. The eyes that are rolling at us today are likely to be smiling in agreement sometime in the future.

  • Diana Trautwein

    Man, can I relate to this. I’ll admit to indignation fatigue – at least when it’s coming from my husband, who tends to get all riled up over EVERYTHING and I just plain get tired from it all. BUT you’ve got me thinking. And remembering. Because I’ve had experiences in my life when I’ve taken a strong, clear position on something and been accused of indignation – when I didn’t feel that at all. I just held an opinion and voiced it. That’s where the gender issue has raised its head in my life. Speaking strongly in a female voice is almost always associated with anger. WHY??? I’m not angry, I’m just thoughtful and sometimes, I am even smart, and I see things clearly – not always, but sometimes. Why, then, the immediate jump to assuming I am angry? Many men I’ve known can speak with the same level of conviction and never be accused of it. But a woman? Lord, help us. And helping our daughters find the inner strength to stand up for themselves and for others – that’s big part of mothering girls, in my book. A huge part, in fact. No, we do not need to be reactive. Yes, we do need to be thoughtful. And sometimes thoughtfulness comes with a slight edge of courage to it, doesn’t it?

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