Self-righteous anger can also be very enjoyable. In a perverse way we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority. Gossip barbed with our anger, a polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us, too. Here we are not trying to help those we criticize; we are trying to proclaim our own righteousness.
I’m reading a book that cited a study that said something like three quarters of what ordinary folks say in ordinary conversation has to do with other people. Surely much of this is informational. When we talk about people in the news, say, or people who we deal with in our day, maybe there is no judgment there.
Self-righteousness is a difficult concept for me to wrap my understanding around. Maybe at the base of it is right and wrong. I am right, THEY are wrong. Yes and no. I do believe I see shades of gray especially with the people who are close to me, people I love. My conflicts with them often involve situations, desires and opinions that are neither right nor wrong, just mine or theirs.
Within the past three hours, I conflicted with my wife over three things that I remember. First, she left the living room curtains open when she went out this morning. The curtains are hard to manipulate, and I’m not tall enough to open and close them. Since our dog will bark loudly at anything passing by, we keep the curtains closed as a visual barrier when we’re not home, so that she doesn’t bark, make herself crazy, and especially disturb the neighbors. Almost every time I see my wife open the curtains, I’m mildly irritated, thinking she will forget to close them. More than that, I will prop the curtains open with pillows on the radiator. That way they are easy to close when I leave. She thinks the pillows wrinkle the curtains. I think so what? The curtains are old and plain and came with the house and should be replaced anyway.
So around and around we go. Why don’t we replace the curtains with new ones that open and close easily? Why don’t we train the dog not to bark? These and many other questions swirl around us, meanwhile I am right (prop the curtains) and she is wrong (don’t prop them and forget to close them).
Then there was a political sign she had taken from the campaign when we did “honk and wave” last week. She was to return it to the campaign, but while she was waiting to go to headquarters, we hung it on our fence that overlooks and main street in our tiny town because it’s cool, yes, but more importantly so that people will see it and be influenced to vote our way. Today (the day before the primary) she asked me what I think about her guilt over the fact that she has not returned it yet. I told her that I think it would likely sit somewhere at headquarters, this way people see it, and if our candidate doesn’t do well tomorrow, the campaign may be no more. In that case she more than paid for the sign with her time and her money. It’s likely these things will be thrown away. She asked for my opinion and she got it, yet she continued on with her guilty feelings and need for confession and restitution. I am right, she is wrong, though in this case both our opinions are probably just about equally valid.
Finally (and this all occurred during the 90 minutes we spent together before she went out) she ordered pizza for dinner and got it with extra cheese. I don’t like extra cheese, and pizza is my favorite food. The past few times we’ve gotten it we’ve gotten two, one my way and one her way. This is time it was just her way, and it annoys me. She asked if maybe we could take turns having it our own way, but I think getting two is better. I am right, she is wrong. Why should I have pizza her way when I can have it the way I like it?
Again, these are little things, and my anger isn’t very much. Even at work, where so many of my problems reside these days, I’m not usually angry. I am, however, self-righteous. There are especially a few people who I have judged in my heart, and I have judged them harshly. I think they don’t do their job, don’t work, aren’t nice, are often mean. They are selfish with their time off (taking choice days before anyone else can get them), they see others doing the job they should be doing, but they just don’t. They miss work all the time, leaving others to suffer, and they don’t seem to care. They are unkind to new people, or to people who aren’t as capable as they are. They are all these things and more, and I feel superior.
I’ve had an interesting time with gossip at work. Purely to protect myself, and yet still give myself and outlet, I had adopted, years ago, a tactic of being “Ninety-nine percent gossip free.” I only gossiped to one particular person, my ex and now current partner. It was completely self serving. I trusted her not to repeat stuff, yet I didn’t have to keep secrets to myself. Now that she’s back, and I’m the bitter, dried up person that I’ve become, I don’t gossip to her anymore. I do mention the behavior of our supervisor, since it effects us, and that has shades of gossip. And no, I’m not trying to help the supervisor by talking about her. I don’t think I’m trying to proclaim my own righteousness ……..
Bottom line – I get angry, probably daily, probably several times a day. I can fall back on the knowledge I have of the concept that when anything bothers me, the fault is mine. Justifiable anger should probably only appear for a very brief time, when a very obvious wrong has taken place.
As for gossip I’m not sure when it’s OK to talk about someone else. When someone has a baby, or gets a job, or graduates, or other good things, certainly it’s OK to share. When someone is coming or going or doing someone mundane, again OK.
I’m looking, in my emotional disturbances, for the places where my desires and instincts are opposing the grace of God. I will also look for where my self-righteous anger is making me feel superior, and where my gossip is my attempt to point out the fact that I am right.