It’s nearly impossible to miss. If you spend time on the Internet, listen to talk radio, watch TV, talk to friends–you can find somebody who’s angry about something, somebody who’s ranting and raving and explaining at length, and in great detail, exactly what’s wrong and why and what should be done about it.
It’s tempting to join in, to start our own rant. I did my share, years ago when I was young and knew everything. But I never bothered to actually do anything about the things I was ranting about. Well, except for joining the Army so I could stand against communism and terrorism. But racism? I never so much as wrote a letter. The abortion debate? I don’t think I ever discussed it with somebody on the other side. Skater music? Yeah, didn’t do anything about that one, either. I enjoyed a rant every now and then, but never where there was a chance somebody might disagree. Never where I might actually have to think about why there was another side to the debate. Never where I might have to examine exactly why I took the positions I did, or consider the merits of the other side.
So when I see or hear or read someone who’s angry, I filter it through the lens of my past. I wonder whether the ranter is willing to take any action to back up his talk, whether he is even willing to discuss his position rationally, without shouting or name-calling or theatrics. I wonder whether he’s willing to consider the merits and weaknesses of his own position, and what he might do when he’s forced to explain the bare bones of it, and whether he’s willing to acknowledge there might be right in a position different from his own.
Because most of the time, when we rant and rave, we do it before people who already agree with us, or at least choose to keep their mouths shut. Or we do it from a platform where we are somewhat shielded from pesky questions and opposing viewpoints, where those listening or reading have a pretty good idea what’s going to come out of our mouths before we open them. Or we do it in a forum where the point of the discussion is entertainment, where nobody is going to change their position and everybody talks over everybody else and nobody remembers anything about the discussion except a few zingers.
I used to think ranting was useful. But the more rants I see and hear and read, the more pointless they seem.
So instead of ranting, let’s have the courage to challenge ourselves. Let’s give enough thought to our positions that we can discuss them with smart people who disagree with us and actually consider the merits of their arguments. Let’s read and listen not only to those we agree with, but to those we don’t. Let’s make an effort to meet some of the people we rant about, so that when we think about who they are, we see faces instead of some amorphous blob of humanity that we’ve been told has these characteristics we should oppose. Let’s discuss the issues we care about, but let’s resolve to listen more than we talk.
Let’s have enough courage to acknowledge that smart people who have thought about why they believe what they do might choose to disagree with us. Let’s have enough courage to admit we might be able to learn from them.
And let’s have enough courage to actually learn instead of just trying to shout the world into sharing our point of view.