When outrage isn’t enough

Incomprehensible tragedy…it happens every so often and when it does happen we find ourselves huddled in front of our televisions absorbing every detail…Every beaming face that flashes across the screen to remind us just how fragile and fleeting life is.  Every emotion pouring out of those left behind: every bit of anger, confusion, and bewilderment.

We wring our hands and hold our heads, reeling from the emotional volcano boiling within us, until finally, we’ve had enough.  We need a release.  And out it comes in a wave of outrage.

We turn to our social networks and frantically spill our emotions onto the web.  We try to explain away the actions of the individual with such terms as “evil” or “crazy and cowardice,” because we cannot fathom the possibility that a human being could be capable of such pointless devastation.  Or we try to find something or someone to blame…”if only there was greater gun control,” “if only we taught our children to fear god,” “if only…”

We verbally spar with our detractors, spurring a pointless debate from which there can be no clear winner.  And then we go about our day.

Our outrage simmers, and then peters out, and we accomplish nothing.  Then sometime later, it happens again – another unthinkable crime against humanity.  We are outraged!

Here’s the problem: outrage doesn’t solve anything!

This past summer I was enjoying an outdoor lunch at a local burger place with my husband and two year old son.  Soon after we sat down, a disheveled, seemingly homeless man shuffled up to us and mumbled an incoherent string of words.  I smiled politely, and said “I’m sorry I don’t understand.” He quickly moved on to the couple seated next to us.  After several failed attempts to communicate, he sat down amongst the patrons, keeping quietly to himself.

I watched, as one by one, a half dozen families collected their meals and started hustling their children inside.  This exodus went on for a minute or two, until finally only we remained with the nameless, disheveled man.  My heart sank, my stomach turned.  I was outraged!!  Why did everybody leave?!  Surely it could not have been because of this silent, harmless man?!  I know it was.

And yet, I did not go to him.  I did not offer to buy him lunch.  I did not ask him if there was anything I could do for him.  I sat silently, saddened and outraged, periodically peering over at the man I will never know, wondering if he noticed what just took place.  And, I did nothing.

I will never know what became of that man or whether a small act of kindness that day may have made a difference.  I will forever be ashamed that I did nothing but express my outrage.

A friend recently told me that we are not judged by our actions, but by our heart.  Comforting words for the tens of millions of us with hearts of gold, brimming with good intentions.

But we all know intentions alone are meaningless.  Now is the time to turn our intentions into actions.  There is no time to waste.  This world needs your kindness, your heart, your love – and it needs it now!

Mentor a child, deliver a meal to a home bound senior or adult with a disability, provide career guidance to an adult, volunteer at a homeless shelter, organize a food drive, volunteer on a crisis line. Volunteer for our organization. Whatever it is, just do it.

If the world was filled with less outrage and more intentional acts of kindness…well, at the risk of sounding like an idealist…imagine!


This article is dedicated to those lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

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