Our Culture of Grievance
In a free society we are able to voice our complaints about unjust treatment, real or perceived, in just about any manner we choose. We can take part in all sorts of protest complete with marches, signs and chants to give voice to our grievances against whatever and whomever we think has offended us.
In fact, it’s imperative for the success of a free and open society like ours to strongly resist anything that impairs our legal right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” But, legitimate protest is a duty that when trivialized by grievances that do not meet the standard of legitimate offences, cheapen and process of fair and just redress.
Grievance is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as, “An actual or supposed circumstance regarded as just cause for protest.” Recently we have seen the line between actual and supposed circumstances become blurred or even obliterated.
On college campuses and urban streets we have seen displays of outrage over supposed injustices. When these events receive public attention and the support of those in authority, they add to the grievance culture.
A grievance culture exists when significant numbers of people claim victim status and assign the blame to someone or some group they don’t like. Social media and the twenty four hour news cycle have provided the organizational mechanism and public forum for individuals to join together in a public display of outrage. Often the content of their grievance is lost in their negative rhetoric toward those who they imagine caused it.
A recent example is the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Thousands of protesters gathered in lower Manhattan to rail against the financial center of the United States. The event lasted for days and was given extensive coverage by electronic and print media. In spite of intensive interviewing of protest participants by various media, no cohesive justification of the event was ever established other than a common contempt for wealthy people.
I accept that what may be a real offence and cause for a legitimate grievance to one person can look totally contrived and imaginary to another. Take for example, the students protesting the failure of social justice at one university. They demanded the replacement of the Operations Manager and the food service vendor because there are not enough traditional food items on the dining hall menu. Another group at the same university is protesting the lack of diversity in ethnic menu choices. And still another group registering a complaint that the ethnic food choices are not authentic enough. The one thing they all agreed on is that someone should be fired.
An outsider looking in may conclude that the grievance culture is in full swing at that university and that the students have been coddled for too long. That the act of protesting is viewed as a cherished part of campus life and finding something by which to be offended is a noble quest.
The grievance culture is not limited to college campuses and urban streets, it permeates American life at all levels. Supposed grievances of all sorts are voiced by race, gender, sexual preferences, age, economic status, politics, religion and more. The villains are usually identified by an ism or phobia and are classified by all of the above distinctions.
The common thread that runs through this culture is incivility. The grievances are expressed in a loud, rude, insulting and disruptive manner. In some cases the protests escalate into riots and looting. It appears to some that the rioting and looting are the main reason for the protest and the grievance is just an excuse or an opportunity.
Legitimate grievances are easily addressed in a civilized manner and in fact are dealt with on a daily basis across the country in countless schools, companies and institutions. The tragedy occurs when protests based on supposed injustices, meet with timid people in authority, opportunistic politicians, hustlers and media companies that put ratings above civic responsibility. We, as responsible civilized citizens, must deny support to those who provide a welcome forum to the progenitors of the Grievance Culture.