"The more affluent children had been taught to submit," he said, describing a job working in a pediatrician's office. "Their mothers would coach them to behave, and apologize to the doctor if they acted out or objected during the exam."
"But the less affluent kids were different. They reacted. They had righteous indignation--'ow! Don't do that! Why are you doing that?' I think you lose something when you lose that righteous indignation."
This conversation happened probably twenty years ago, with someone I knew only briefly, but it has stuck with me. I always thought it was so important to be well-behaved. Here was someone who said we lose something if we no longer have the language of righteous indignation.
We lose the ability to stand up for our rights, to protect ourselves. We lose understanding and empathy for others who are making noise for a just cause. Why don't they just submit? I would submit, a little voice whispers.
Righteous indignation is loud. It can make other people uncomfortable. It can draw criticism from those who benefit from our silence.
I speak from this blog, sometimes rather pointedly, but I find making noise in real life extremely difficult. I have been taught to behave. Don't embarrass yourself. Don't embarrass anyone else. But we are living in times that call for good people to cry out--Ow! Don't do that! Why are you doing that?
- because guns are valued more than lives.
- because people of color are valued not at all.
- because the bodies of women and girls are not treated as their own.
- because money has replaced the democratic process.
The voice of injustice is loud: forceful, controlling, and bullying. And yet we keep passing judgement on the victims for "breaking the boundaries of good behavior." Why?
Righteous indignation can be messy. But when we lose it we lose a unique power deep within ourselves to stand up. To be heard. To reject oppression. To make noise that bears witness to the truth.