How To Be Outraged at the Right Things

Confession: I saw exactly none of the Olympics, since we use our TV entirely for Netflix and watching movies.

Like those people who try to summarize plots of books without having read them, what I know of the Olympics is basically: Michael Phelps made a funny face, trampoline is an actual event, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was awesome, and people are racist, sexist, or both because they condemned Gabby Douglas’s alleged bad attitude while shrugging off Ryan Lochte’s alleged vandalism and perjury.


My response to that last one was…maybe. Maybe not.

But I’m pretty sure it showed that we have a problem with our cultural expectations for others.

Think about it. The reason we are outraged by something is because it goes against what we think ought to happen.

When we are outraged and probably shouldn’t be, it’s often because we take something true (“Parents should watch their children carefully. Animals shouldn’t be treated with cruelty.”) and use those truths to completely overreact to a situation we think shouldn’t have happened (“The evil zookeepers who shot the poor, defenseless gorilla and the incompetent mother who let her kid wander into the cage are criminals and horrible people.”).

When we should be outraged about something and aren’t (say, abortion, or another politician is caught lying) it’s usually because it doesn’t affect us personally or we expect it to happen and go on happening.

Our culture, hyped up by backstory montages of pretty young girls in sparkly uniforms, has certain expectations for female gymnasts at the Olympics. They’re supposed to be adorable, spunky team players who are the most patriotic thing since George Washington eating apple pie while riding a giant star-spangled bald eagle.

Gabby Douglas violated those expectations, reacting to her disappointment by not being sufficiently excited for her teammates and not putting her hand over her heart to salute the flag. And most people were annoyed, some actually outraged.

Meanwhile, our culture, bombarded with minor scandals and stereotypes of the typical frat house experience, also has certain expectations for young male athletes. They’re…not super high standards. The party boy image, goofing off, making stupid choices, and wanting attention fit right in.

Ryan Lochte confirmed these expectations by getting drunk and making up a story about an armed robbery, which he later had to ‘fess up to in front of a watching nation. And most people rolled their eyes or even laughed.

To be perfectly honest…I don’t care all that much about Olympic athletes being insensitive or foolish or difficult to get along with. After all, outrage over things like this flares up for a week or two, then dies away, so quickly that I had to look up the details of the zoo-shoots-the-gorilla outrage from just a few months ago to reference it earlier.

It doesn’t matter that much.

Except (and you knew there would be an “except”) it made me wonder: where are my expectations wrong?

Take a second and ask these follow-up questions along with me.

Do I…

  • Generalize about and trashtalk a group of people, assuming that everyone else agrees with me? (Fundamentalists, feminists, immigrants, people who watch that show you consider inappropriate, girls who post a selfie every day, [fill in the blank with your favorite soapbox].)
  • Have low standard for someone or some group? (Maybe it’s okay to crack jokes about “whiny/dramatic jr. highers” because we’ve all been there…but where’s the line between that and treating real ones like that’s what you expect from them?)
  • Reinforce common stereotypes because they’re easy go-to jokes? (Like a woman being “bossy/wearing the pants” because she has leadership skills or opinions, or cracking jokes about every person who still lives at home past 18 being a video-game playing moocher stuck in perpetual childhood.)
  • Avoid certain people and assume they will never change?
  • Pray without really thinking God will do anything in response?
  • Write off my own weaknesses as “part of my personality” or “something I’ll always struggle with”? (That last one is closer to the truth, but if by that you mean “So I really can’t do much about it,” then you’ve got trouble.)

If you said yes to any of these questions, welcome to the club. If you said yes to all of them…so did I, so we’ll have to put this to a vote and see who gets to be president of the club. (Or, if you’re tired of voting, we could do a rap battle or a pie baking contest. Your pick.)

It’s important to consider what your expectations for yourself, God, and others are. For one thing, it usually makes you outraged (or saddened, or excited) about the right things. But more importantly…

What you think about Gabby Douglas or Ryan Lochte [or insert whatever flame war scandal will be going on tomorrow] matters because what you think about everything, but especially people, affects your ability to love others.

And that is second-greatest-commandment-rank important.

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