Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Downside of Righteous Indignation

“Get away from her!  Don’t hurt her like that!”

We glanced around to see who the angry old woman was yelling at, but we couldn't spot anyone being hurt.  

My husband had no idea she was talking to him until she marched right up to us and urged me to leave the “abusive” man.  Huh?

We eventually figured out what happened:

My would-be rescuer was convinced my husband had done something to cause the pained expression on my face.  I was actually grimacing because I was walking for the first time since getting a cast off my leg, and he had his arm tightly wrapped around me in case I stumbled.

I’d broken my leg in January.  For the next four months, my husband:
  • drove me to and from work every day;
  • helped me hobble up the stairs to our apartment;
  • took over my share of the usual errands and housework;
  • figured out how to sand down my cast so it would stop digging into my knee; and
  • pushed my wheelchair up and down steep hills to a local park when I got “cabin fever.”

This is, by the way, the same guy who took care of me when I had my wisdom teeth out, making a different non-chewy food for every meal: 
“Since we’ve already had grits and mashed potatoes today, how about oatmeal for dinner?” 
When the pain was at its worst, he sat with me and watched The Princess Diaries, in its entirety and without comment.  (Let’s just say that’s not exactly his preferred genre of film.)

In other words, this is clearly not a man who deserves to be yelled at in public for mistreating me.

So as much as I appreciated the older woman’s concern, I didn’t appreciate her causing a scene right in front of our apartment building.

If I really had been abused, her intervention might have been helpful.  I don’t fault her instincts; I just wish she’d taken a moment to observe us and ask if I was OK before jumping in to "rescue" me.

That's the problem with righteous indignation.  We see a situation that makes us angry, and we want to do something about it right now while the adrenaline is pumping... but if we're blinded by our anger we may respond in a totally inappropriate way.

Remembering other people's unfair assessments can help us hold back when we feel our own righteous indignation kicking in.  We can send a quick "I Wish You Peace" to the person we're having trouble with, then when we're feeling calmer, we can decide whether there's a chance of "Changing the Script" and directly addressing the situation, rather than lashing out or stewing in resentment.  

Unfortunately, it can be hardest to remember this with the people closest to us.  For kids, that usually means siblings; for adults, that usually means our spouses.  

Whenever I start feeling angry at my husband, I try to remember that he's not intending to provoke me, we just aren't looking at the situation from the same perspective.  After all, any guy who makes oatmeal for supper is bound to see things a little differently from most people.

photo by stockimages for