Once again, I came upon an article dealing with morality; this time it was about “moral outrage.” Without doubt, most people either have witnessed, been subjected to or have personally expressed moral outrage. Especially, in this day and age of our politics. Who has not become angry or outraged or mad at what is occurring or not occurring?

In an article entitled “Why there are costs to moral outrage” appearing online at the conversation.com, the author suggests that moral outrage allows us to express anger and thereby enables us, “to communicate something about [ourselves]- that [we] are morally sensitive, that [we] care about injustice-so much so that [we] are willing to accept the cost of being upset to show it.” (Id.)

Social norms usually dictate that we treat public discourse with respect and to identify problems and collaborate on their resolution. But, not everyone does this. Rather, they use it to “morally grandstand” by showing outrage:

Grandstanders use talk about justice, rights or morality in general to show that they are good people. Grandstanders want others to think that they care more about justice, or empathize more deeply with the poor, or more clearly understand the plight of the factory worker than the average person. Some are more modest, and just want to show that they are on the right side of history. For grandstanders, moral and political discourse is a vanity project. (Id.)

As one might guess, each of us tends to think that we are morally superior to the next person; that we care more deeply about justice and the wrongs it has wrought than the next person and so have greater insight into fixing those wrongs than the next person. (Id.)

Our acts of moral superiority aka grandstanding can take the form of “…piling on in cases of public shaming, anounc[ing] that anyone who disagrees with [us] about a difficult matter is obviously wrong, or make extreme or implausible claims.” (Id.)

It also takes the form of outrage, either sincere or feigned:

If you want to show people how much you care about being morally upright, outrage will often do the trick. Because strong emotional responses are correlated with moral convictions, people think they can display their moral commitment by showing that they are outraged.

In fact, the more outraged, the better. If you are the angriest, you must be especially good….” (Id.)

But, like everything else in life, there is a time and place for moral outrage or grandstanding. If used excessively or in the wrong setting, it will not be effective, and instead, will be taken as nothing more than being overly emotional for no good reason.

What has this got to do with litigation and settling disputes? Quite a lot. As a young litigating attorney, I sometimes engaged in “moral outrage” or grandstanding by telling opposing counsel how morally unconscionable were the actions of both counsel and her client. I would express outrage and anger at the “wrongs” being committed against my client. At times, I was also on the receiving end of such grandstanding, being told by opposing counsel that what I and/or my client were doing was immoral, unconscionable etc.

It took an older and wiser attorney to explain to me that moral outrage, anger and grandstanding were of no great use in litigation. It was the facts and the law that counted; not my moral indignation nor that of my opponent. Thereafter, I soon realized the correctness of this nugget of advice; moral indignation does not get anyone anywhere in litigation or in resolving a dispute.

Yet, I still see it in mediation. One party or the other comes in, morally outraged and indignant at the way she was treated or not treated, at the lack of respect given to her. I am told by that party to convey this grandstanding to the other party. When I do, the latter party shrugs and says something to the effect or “so what “and then proceeds to review the facts and the law with me. The moral outrage of the other party is a total nonstarter. To many people, settling a dispute is all about taking care of business in which moral outrage plays no role.

So… while moral outrage and grandstanding may be worthwhile in a political public forum, I have found that it is useless in resolving litigated matters.

…. Just something to think about.


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