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The Sweet, Sweet High of Self-Righteousness

This week, I got high. It was brief, it was exhilarating, and no, it wasn’t my first time. This drug, though powerful and addicting, is easily accessible. It’s usually just a headline or a sound bite away. Ah yes, that sweet, sweet hit of self-righteous indignation goes down smooth!

It all started innocently enough- ordering school supplies for my daughters for the next school year. Pretty dull stuff (unless you are a kid- because my lord, I LOVED new school supplies) and as I went out to the website, I was shocked, shocked I tell you, to see the school supplies listed by grade AND gender.

School supplies- Girls, School supplies- Boys. Wait, what?!

The school is forcing the kids to have different school supplies based on gender?! In first grade?! Bastards! I incredulously clicked back and forth between both offerings, but only saw lists that appeared identical and a generic picture of crayons, pencils, folders, and blunt-tipped scissors. Thus, not seeing an obvious difference, I assumed (oh yes, taking another hit of that drug) that the differences must manifest themselves in the packaging. I immediately imagined a pink box with bows and sparkles for the girls and a green box with a bold swoosh and a soccer ball for the boys. How dare they! The nerve! So, caught up on my high, I went to my favorite social media platform for knee-jerk reactions- Facebook and furiously shared my outrage. And yes, it felt good.

I posted about how *shocked* I was and “No wonder the gender gap persists!” Then, I reveled in the likes and supportive comments that came in- my fiery indignation simultaneously soothed and stoked. I considered writing the principal. I considered emailing the school supplies vendor. Luckily, I had ACTUAL work to do at work, so wasn’t able to do more than tell a few more co-workers about my outrage.

A busy evening followed. I made dinner, discussed the days events with the kids, did all the evening chores and dropped thankfully into bed- still mentally composing my thoughtful yet outraged email to the principal that I’d send the next day.

Well. Next day dawns. New comment on Facebook. Barely out of bed, I eagerly click through. A friend and fellow Mom posts that she has solved the mystery! One set of school supplies has tissues, the other set has wipes. It’s just a way to get half of an item for the classroom (since all the supplies are communal). Oh. That’s so logical. And obvious. And not AT ALL gender related. Shit.

Fortunately, as good as I am at getting high on self-righteousness, I’m also pretty good at admitting and making up for my mistakes (practice makes perfect, right!). So here it goes. In addition to an all-you-can-eat buffet of humble pie, I set down to examining my assumptions and reaction. And thus, I am reminded of two incredibly powerful axioms:

Seek first to understand. Although I did a cursory check of the items in each pack, I did not carefully read the list; nor did I actually email and ask the simple question. Oh no, my righteousness had already been triggered and I was flying high.

The simplest explanation is usually correct. Did it make sense that my children’s wonderful, thoughtful school would be foisting some awful gender stereotypes on the kids or that there would be some institutional plot to undermine the confidence of girls? Seems silly when you put it that way. Downright loony. A conspiracy theory, practically. Geez. Or, does it make more sense that rather than needing 20 boxes of tissues and 20 boxes of wipes, maybe they only need 10 of each in the classroom, and since each class is roughly an even split between boys and girls, this would be an easy way to accomplish that split. Well, yes- that does seem like a simple and non-controversial way of accomplishing that. Why didn’t I think of that?

Finally, and hopefully, this little refrain that I like to share with my children is also true- “It’s not the mistakes we make that people remember, but how we recover from them.” I am completely and totally fessing up to my overreaction, my terrible assumptions, and my abuse of a readily available social media soapbox  (Facebook). I. Am. An. Idiot. (At least sometimes.)

I hope that I will carry this lesson close and the next time I get a whiff of that intoxicating blend of indignation (it so exhilarating to be offended!) and self-righteousness (who doesn’t love the pure high of being right?!), I will reach into my toolbox and pull out that lens of truth-seeking and that engineers friend (KISS- Keep it simple stupid) and measure the situation and my reaction carefully.

I see many parallels in my reaction to the actions and reactions we see in the media all the time. It’s such an easy and accessible high- it’s addicting to be on the side of the righteous and to wave the flag of indignation. I’m grateful for this small reminder not to rush to judgment and to be wary of any path that is paved with assumptions.

Finally, I’m appreciative of all the support I received for the first FB post (particularly those wise friends who sought to understand the “why”) and for your willingness to learn with me as I stumble through my own flaws.

PS- Is there pie in my teeth?

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