Brock Turner went viral a few months ago, when he was sentenced a mere six months for the violent rape he committed at a Stanford party. Then he dropped off our social media feeds. Now, as he was released Friday after a mere 3 months, we're outraged anew.
A year ago, we collectively grieved over the image of Aylan Kurdi, a dead refugee boy washed up on a shore after drowning. Then we got quiet again. A couple weeks ago, our feeds lit up again, this time with Omran Daqneesh sitting bloodied and stunned in an ambulance, wiping his dirty hands on the seat just like my boys do. Our outrage and profound sorrow over Aylan had faded but returned rekindled for Omran.
And then, even as news spread that Omran's brother had died, we stepped away from our outrage again.
I get it. I do. We can't live perpetually in outrage. We can't nourish our souls with a buffet of only agony, anger, and anguish. When we feel helpless in the face of our world's trauma, we have to look away sometimes or we'll be consumed.
But I don't think our only options are to fall headfirst into hopelessness or turn our backs on suffering. There has to be a third way. I'm sure of it.
If we throw up walls of outrage, they'll crumble in time. Outrage alone can't stand. Outrage isn't self-supporting. Outrage can't be kindled long term. But what if we embraced the outrage as a right and just response to outrageous events but didn't stop there?
What if we build foundations under the outrage to turn it into something useful and sustainable? What if we transformed at least some of that anger into action or education? What if we showed great love by listening compassionately to our neighbors?
I know why we don't. Outrage is comfortable. Outrage is socially acceptable. Outrage comes in waves that we know will return to the sea of public anger. Outrage feels like a controlled response to a world spinning out of control.
But outrage isn't vulnerable. We don't move past outrage because we don't want to be honest with the next steps. We let our emotional fires dull to a simmer, ignoring them until the next story comes along to fan the flames into a roar once again. The previous inferno is forgotten, as we've moved on to the next one.
Some fires are frivilous, and some are needed. I'm all for letting the petty pyres burn out on their own. But any flames worth fanning deserve to be seen all the way through, beyond the outrage and into something more. I was encouraged when my Facebook feed filled with people calling for justice when Brock Turner only got six months - three months with good behavior - for rape. For. Rape. I reminded us of the power of our words when people said her life was ruined. (It isn't.) I thanked friends for their outrage, writing for the first time publicly about my sexual assault history.
And then I watched as we moved on to the next trending story, and the silence around rape dropped off. I shared another story and then another and then another of white rapists getting nothing more than a slap on the wrists, of our "justice" system showing more concern for their futures than for their actions. Sadly, Brock Turner's paltry sentence isn't uncommon. Brock's name is known and evoked our outrage, but we mostly ignored David Becker and John Enochs and James Wilkerson. All three are also young white rapists who got light sentences for their crimes, often with judges expressing more concern for their futures than the futures of the girls they violated. This. Trend. Is. Not. Okay. And our magnification of one case and ignorance of others isn't okay either.
I get it, though. Outrage is exhausting. So I'm not asking you to stay outraged. We can't do that. Or if we could, it wouldn't be healthy or sustainable.
I'm writing this to declare that there's a third way. It's not all outrage or apathy. It's not either ranting or silence. It's not the choice between floods of feelings or numbness.
The third way is the way of listening with empathy. The end result will be action for some of us on a particular issue. For others, the end result will be knowledge. We won't all feel compelled to do something about every cause, and that's okay. But we are called to care for and love our neighbor, so listening well is the bare minimum for that.
(Want an example of what that might look like? Read this story. Listen and listen well to voices like Elizabeth Smart's as she points out the problems with religious purity culture, and sit with that before you push back about how sexual sin matters. Of course it does. But Elizabeth isn't arguing for us to abandon all sexual mores but rather sharing how our language and approach can do harm.)
And action? We can't all be actors for every injustice. (I've tried. That's a sure path to burn out.) God designed us each uniquely. The beauty therein is that my passion and your passion don't have to be the same, but together we can create a rich tapestry of interwoven actions that collectively glorifying God and edify others.
(For example, some friends as well as other folks I deeply respect created The Compassion Collective as a response to Aylan and Omran and so many other vulnerable children. They chose the third way. Their efforts are a beautiful display of action, and I'm joining in a small way with my financial contributions.)
Listen well, friends. And, yes, be angry. But don't stay there. Instead, decide that you will learn and maybe even act so that the world might be made different by what is born out of our outrage.