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Righteous indignation you say?

I was trying to remember when I first became aware of this phrase and what it actually meant.  I guess I was in my mid-teens and maybe it was in one of five English classes I had in high school. Five you say! Yes, five it was. English was one of two classes I flunked in the 9th grade. Algebra was the other and I legitimately failed it, unlike my English course. I really tried to understand algebra, but our moving all over the country had scrambled the rules of math for me.

For all the crazy stunts I pulled in my English class, I was totally cowed down in algebra and stayed confused no matter who tried to help me. I needed to start over. The funny thing is, I took it in the 10th grade and passed it. Years later in a statistical process control seminar, I was the go to guy on most of the other fellow’s algebra. Even today I don’t understand how that was possible.

I failed English because I was the class clown, or rather the main CC. This stirred my teacher’s righteous indignation and she failed me by one point to prove her point. I decided the best course of action for me was to take a summer school English class. I’ve written about this before so I won’t repeat it, but that was a turning point in my attitude about school and made future classes so much fun.

I tell young students my story and explain that if you do your homework and actually listen in class, school is easy… and fun. In fact, if you read the next assignment, it is almost ridiculously easy. Anyway, I want to get back on point here.

Now the original meaning of the term righteous indignation, or maybe righteous anger most likely meant “it is one's right to feel that way; anger without guilt”. This emotion was based on a lifetime of social interaction, home and church teachings, an individual’s perception of law and order, or maybe some self-imposed rule.

Nowhere did it imply violence or breaking the law. What it did imply was someone did something wrong and based on our own perception of right, we feel anger. We don’t have to apologize for our feelings because we don’t act on them. Nowhere in this line of thought justifies doing something physical in retaliation.

Now in the last so many years and here recently in Washington DC and other cities we see looting and burning of cars and smashing windows of businesses as a perverted form of righteous indignation. It is clearly not that at all.  It is lawlessness and anger combined. It is a physical violation of righteousness and personal property to attempt to legitimatize someone’s idea of righting wrong doing.

The end does not justify the means and never has. Although many of the concerns of the women’s march in our Capital city were righteous in scope, the activities of some and the tons of signage that littered the ground clearly violated law and what is right. Women plastering windows with slogan filled maxi-pads are repulsive, trashy, and invasive to the shop owners they selected.

I support people demonstrating for a cause, but it has to be done according to the current laws and then they must clean up afterward. It was disgusting watching videos of the participants cursing bystanders and shooting the finger when asked to pick up their trash. It embarrassed and shamed me as an American. When one man questioned why they wouldn’t pick up their signs, it was met with open objection and ridicule by the protestors. This is shameful behavior and negates their righteous efforts.

Righteous indignation has taken on an almost criminal bent that needs to stop and be called what it really is: blatant unbridled anger. The end certainly does not justify the means, especially when it is violent, breaks the law, or is destructive of property. People have a right to orderly march when they have a legitimate issue, but doing it the wrong way has the opposite effect of their mission and social perception.

On top of everything else, throwing a hissy fit makes you look like spoiled brats who didn’t get your way. So you didn’t get what you wanted? Hey, grow up. Life is full of fences and barriers and you should do like all the righteous people do – go through the doors and gates. The term social means you have to get along. You have to stand in line and when it comes to voting for whom or what you want and you may just have to live with something you didn’t choose. Life goes on. Geeze. Get over it.

I didn’t vote for 16 years of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but I didn’t burn the American flag or threaten to blow up the White House. I simply wrote my representatives and told them what I supported and didn’t and then at each election, I cast my vote. That is how I showed my righteous indignation.


Anonymous said…
Allyce Lankford: Great read Bert and one that I so agree with.
Anonymous said…
MM: You called it as I see it. Thanks.
Anonymous said…
James Connealy: My first encounter with 'righteous indignation' occurred in elementary school, seems that me and another knot head were making too much notice in the boys restroom. Suddenly, a nun appeared and both of us were recipients of indignation, righteous or not!
Anonymous said…
Sam: This makes one ponder the natural human behavior patterns and cultivates food for thought.ha! Good work Bert, thanks for your time.
Anonymous said…
Candy Lind: Great column, Bert. I wish you'd go back and read some of your comments/posts lately, however. This column implies that you would never stoop to negative trash talk.

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