The optimistic aspects of outrage and dissent
Jan 06, 2010 | 8203 views | 0 0 comments | 1393 1393 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Not long ago, I was chatting with one of my favorite abstract/performance artists, a hopelessly cheery woman who I adore. But I was shocked almost to tears when she accused me of being too negative.

(Here we go again...) Negative?...ME?

“You’ll never believe this,” I told her, “But I am one of the most optimistic people you will ever meet.”

She thought that was pretty funny. After she’d caught her breath and I’d helped her off the floor where she was writhing in convulsive laughter, I attempted to explain myself.

“Look,” I said. “Do you know what I think one of the most striking and significant characteristics of an optimistic person is?”

She shook her head dubiously.

“Outrage,” I told her. “Controlled and properly applied outrage.”

My friend ran her hand across her face as she uncomfortably shifted from foot to foot. “What in the world are you talking about?” she asked. She gazed at me with studied bewilderment.

“Okay... stay with me a minute. Do you mind if I sit down?”

Now she was really worried. “How long is this going to take?”

“Not long. You’ll be out of here by noon.”

“But it’s only nine-thirty!”

“Okay... eleven. Please listen to me... In this crazed world of ours, when we see something happening around us that we think is wrong, we have two choices: we can either act to change them; or we can simply accept them and prepare for the consequences.”

She seemed unmoved.

“Only by being outraged, will any of us make the effort or take the time to do the right thing.  Outrage led to the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation and Women’s Suffrage and the Civil Rights Act. Outrage created the Wilderness Act and the Clean Air Act. It was when people got mad enough... outraged enough to take action, that any of these changes occurred.”

“Haven’t you written about this before?”

“Probably, but it’s a recurring theme that should be re-stated from time to time.”

My friend sighed and sat down next to me. “I sort of see your point, but I just can’t stand all the pessimism that comes from Gloomy Gus-types  like you. It just never stops.”

“That’s not true and you know it,” I said defensively. “First of all, you know that I can be one of the silliest and dumbest individuals you’ve ever encountered... I offer all kinds of ‘comic relief’ to soften the grim nature of my oft repeated doomsday predictions.”

“Dumb, for sure,” she said.

“But second, and much more importantly, do you want me to tell you what a real pessimist sounds like?” I challenged.

“Uh...not really,” she replied.

“Okay, I’ll tell you anyway. My idea of a pessimist is somebody who hears about a new tram in Moab or another condo development or another bonehead move by a Utah Congressman and hears the outrage from others and puts his hands over his ears and says, ‘Like...this is all so NEGATIVE. I think this kind of negative energy is, like, really sad (pronounced saaaaaad). I can find such happiness in my organic garden and taking hikes with my friends and just being, like...happy. I mean, like, I recycle. Why can’t you people just be happy? There are still nice places to hike. You can’t stop any of this anyway, so, like, why make yourselves miserable?’

“Now that is a pessimistic person... someone in such denial that they refuse to acknowledge the reality around them, and the responsibility to defend the very things that they allegedly find most precious in their lives. It’s stumbling through life with blinders on. It’s ignoring the obvious. It’s outrageous and hypocritical to boot!

“On the other hand, someone who is outraged enough to act believes that things can get better. That positive change is possible. That it’s worth the screaming and elevated blood pressure to see something through to its conclusion, win or lose.”

“I never say ‘like’ in a sentence,” she glared.

“My dear friend, I’m not even talking about you. Your grasp of the English language is to be commended and I know you have a great passion for right and wrong. I was creating a hyperbolic stereotypical generalization to make a point. Just don’t assume that outrage is a bad thing. It has its place.”

“So the bottom line is: you’re a positive upbeat optimist because you’re constantly outraged and annoyed and if the world were similarly infuriated, it would be a better place to live?”

“Something like that.”

“Nobody will ever believe it.”

“Probably not.”

(Jim Stiles is publisher of the “Canyon Country Zephyr -- Planet Earth Edition” now exclusively online. He is also the author of “Brave New West.” Both can be found at Stiles lives in San Juan County and can be reached at
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