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In This Together: When righteous indignation isn’t so righteous
Sep 22, 2013 | 2079 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print

By Louise R. Shaw

Tell me I’m not the only one who’s done this. Maybe you’ve done it as well.

You’re driving along, minding your own business, with everything under control and right with the world, when you come upon someone in your path going v-e-e-e-r-r-r-y slowly.

This is not something you had planned for that morning, and it is an affront to your sense of control and a delay to the plans you had for the day to be going 25 when you have every right to go 35 on this particular street. You had only allowed enough time to get where you’re going by driving 35 mph.

You think bad thoughts.

You look for a way around and when there isn’t one, you think more bad thoughts.

What kind of an inept person doesn’t know the speed limit here, you think. How could anyone not know their way around this part of town that is so familiar to you, having lived there for 10 years?

And more bad and insulting thoughts come.

They’re all directed at the person at the steering wheel in front of you, who is probably doing something even more annoying that makes you even more indignant, such as talking on a cell phone or eating breakfast.

And then it happens.

You come to a bend in the road and just around the corner, you realize that the person in front of you isn’t going slowly because she is inept or distracted.

She is going slowly because there is a car in front of her, necessitating the lower speed, just as your speed is lower because of the speed of the car in front of you. And you  wonder if the person behind you is just as mad at you without cause.

This kind of experience is why I can say: Beware righteous indignation.

Three things can happen to those who are righteously indignant and the above story illustrates the first:

You just might find out that you were mad at the wrong person, or that the person you were mad at had a reason that was totally acceptable once you took the time to find out about it.

Second, it’s best not to be righteously indignant because you might find yourself in the same situation some day.

Say you’re on the road in a suburb of Boston, for example, and the GPS is telling you to go right but you’re not sure if that’s a hard right or the right just beyond it that angles more gradually.

You know if you pick the wrong right you’ll never get back on track, so you slow down a bit to give yourself time to make the decision, only to find you’re doing the very same thing you get mad at people for doing when they do it in a place where you know which right to take.

(Hopefully no one will honk at you or you’ll be righteously indignant that they don’t understand you’re new to town.)

Third, people who are righteously indignant somehow think it is OK to do things they wouldn’t do if they weren’t. They get mad, or honk, or say mean things, or start wars.

Take Iraq for example.

But back to driving.

It’s always easy to tell people who are feeling righteous indignation. They honk. Or worse.

But if you take my three reasons to heart, you’ll try to understand, and you’ll hope others understand you. Not only will the world be a better place, but you will be a better person.

And there will be less honking.

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