Outrage, but with Hope

I have no recollection of how Stephane Hessel’s Time for Outrage: Indinez-vous! got on my birthday list, but I picked up the short piece (more essay than book, although it is nicely bound in a 3×5 red hardcover) this morning to read while on the exercise bicycle. Written by Hessel, a Resistance leader, concentration camp survivor and former UN speechwriter, at the age of 93, it has sold millions of copies since it was published in France a little over a year ago.

As the title of his piece suggests, Hessel believes we all should be outraged because we live in a world where there are things to be outraged about and because it takes outrage for us to fight for greater justice and freedom. He talks about many things that might outrage us, and discusses his own outrage over the situation in Palestine, Gaza, and the West Bank. (His criticism of the behavior of the Israeli government has earned him much criticism.)

Hessel adds something that is incredibly important for us to keep in mind. Outrage can be accompanied by exasperation or by hope – and which of those accompanies outrage makes an enormous difference. He writes

Violence inspired by exasperation is too often the outcome of unacceptable situations. In this light, one can see terrorism itself as a form of exasperation – and, as such, “exasperation” becomes a negative term. Instead of exasperation, there should be aspiration. Exasperation negates hope. As an emotion, it is understandable. I might even go so far as to say it is natural. But it is nonetheless unacceptable, because it will never accomplish what hope could.

The temptation to resort to violence can sometimes be strong, but violence always “turns its back on hope.” We should be outraged and we should right for justice. But Hessel is right that the message of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela remain relevant to us in those struggles. “They are messages of hope, of faith in a society’s ability to overcome conflict through mutual understanding and watchful patience.”


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