Less Outrage, More Action

This was my last newspaper column of 2013, published last Monday. Have a Happy New Year everyone and thanks for reading!

Recently federal Industry Minister James Moore put his foot in it, big-time, during a radio interview on child poverty.

In a one-minute clip with Vancouver’s News 1130, Moore ended by saying, “Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s children? I don’t think so.” Then he laughed.

He apologized – eventually – but not before defending himself, calling the whole episode “ridiculous” and naturally stoking a bonfire on social media.

Like any decent person, I was dismayed to hear a federal cabinet minister speak so callously about child hunger. I was all set to join the outrage. Then I paused.

I thought, “If I’m going to criticize Moore for dismissing child poverty, I should be able to explain what I’m doing to address the same problem.”

If I’m honest, the answer is not a whole lot.

I give to a local food bank on a semi-regular basis, on the Sundays I remember to bring non-perishable items for the drop-off box at our church. I donate monthly to a few charitable causes and give more at this time of year.

But if I’m really honest, on an average day I devote more action to making tea than I do to wiping out poverty. So there’s a limit to how incensed I can feel toward Moore.

It is very easy for us to be upset about several things a day. Thanks to social media, where public blunders go viral within hours, our current zeitgeist is a state of perpetual indignation.

On the day I finished writing this column, half of North America seemed to be in a tizzy over comments from a reality TV show I’ve never watched, for reasons I didn’t dare begin to explore.

I’m hardly immune to outrage. I’ve griped online about serious issues, like my near-daily encounters with drivers who treat crosswalks as mere suggestions, and trivial ones, like a fellow bus rider who violates social etiquette by occupying a seat with her purse and practically shouting into her cellphone.

We like to air our grievances publicly so our friends can validate our outrage and assure us that we are right to be angry. We like being right.

We’ve also had plenty of material to feed our outrage this year. And outrage is appropriate, sometimes. If enough people get worked up about a real injustice, it can lead to change.

Yet I fear we are often content to rest in our outrage.

It’s an easy place to stay. Being indignant lends us an air of moral superiority. We just cannot believe that someone would say or do something so terrible—the implication being that we, of course, would never say or do something so terrible.

But outrage alone isn’t going to put Christmas dinner on a hungry family’s table.

Moore’s comments were incredibly heartless and dismissive, but he did utter a tiny nugget of truth: it’s not simply up to the government, federal or otherwise, to fix everything. They have a responsibility, absolutely, though it’s not theirs alone.

There is a time and a place to protest the ills of the world. But if we are content simply to complain about what everyone else is doing wrong or not doing at all, without lifting our eyes from our electronic devices and laying something on the line ourselves, we are not exactly changing the world.

So my goal for 2014, the example I hope to set for my kids, is to gripe less and act more. I want to invest less time in fretting over trivial things and more energy in making a real difference.


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