I’ve seen variations of a couple of quotes, which many have claimed and many more attributed to the well-known person from which they first heard it. The first is, “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.” The second is, “People like being outraged and offended constantly, it makes us feel superior.”
For those among us who are not wise enough to stop watching the news or scrolling through social media, we have become accustomed to a constant stream of self-righteous, sarcastic, mean-spirited, half-truth, and carefully chosen vitriol. Maybe I overstate it a bit, but not by much. Even if we do not abide it, it is a constant battle to keep it at bay.
Aside from sucking all the humor, joy, and wonder out of life, constant outrage keeps our brains and bodies in a constant state of defense or aggression. This is not healthy for us physically, mentally, socially, or spiritually. Outrage may be necessary occasionally, but not constantly.
There is another option. There is another way to respond to the wretched injustices and inequalities that rain on us and affect us, whether we are paying attention or not. It is not the easier option because outrage does not demand action. Outrage only demands anger — focused or not. The more difficult, yet healthier and more sustainable option is compassion.
Outrage is punitive, compassion seeks to heal. Outrage leads to a proliferation of laws and rules to keep those laws. I do think we need laws, just not so many as we have. Compassion has the capacity to change hearts and actions — much more powerful than any laws we could pass. Compassion, properly understood, requires more wisdom and courage than outrage; and it is likely to cost something. Compassion is willing to act alone, while outrage tends to keep us in self-serving tribes.
This is not to suggest that outrage inducing events do not happen. It is to suggest that serving those who are injured sends a powerful message to those who make and enforce the rules that keep others down. Outrage is the stuff of what passes for news and political rhetoric. Compassion is the stuff of real life and true speech. Outrage boxes us into what we can say and what we can do, all the while deceiving us into thinking we are “speaking truth to power”, all the while seeking such power for oneself. Compassion says and does what needs to be said and done without regard to tribe, party, power, or expectation.
In his work, “Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage”, John of Ruysbroeck (1293-1381) says, “Compassion makes a man look into himself, and recognize his faults, his feebleness in virtues and in the worship of God, his lukewarmness, his laziness, his many failings, the time he has wasted and his present imperfection in moral and other virtues; all this makes a man feel true pity and compassion for himself. . . Such a man will also regard with pity the bodily needs of his neighbours, and the manifold sufferings of human nature; seeing men hungry, thirsty, cold, naked, sick, poor, and abject; the manifold oppressions of the poor, the grief caused by loss of kinsmen, friends, goods, honor, peace; all the countless sorrows which befall the nature of man. These things move the just to compassion, so that they share the sorrows of all. But their greatest pain springs from this: that men are so impatient of this suffering, that they lose their reward. Such is the work of compassion and of pity.”
Compassion recognizes that there is no condition of another person that could not have been our own. Compassion looks at the world through the eyes of humility and repentance. Whatever is going on in your world, you are a part of it. Compassion thinks of healing and guidance first. Outrage punishes, compassion heals. God chose compassion rather than outrage. Helping and healing those who would be helped and healed. When given the choice, choose compassion and help change the world for the better.