Have you ever listened to someone when they are angry and ranting? If you have never had such an experience, you’re either deaf or you live under a rock. Rants are part of the human condition. I would say that rants are part of human communication. They allow the listener a peek into the heart and soul of the other, the person who is ranting.
You see, when people rant, they are only partially in control. Very often the emotions move faster than the rules that govern social discourse; the result is that you reveal yourself in not so politically correct ways, but probably in the most humble way possible. Humility is the exercise of truth governed by trust. You trust that the person who sees and hears you as you truly are also loves you as you are, not as he or she imagines or desires you to be.
Having been at the receiving end of rants many times in my life, rants by family members, colleagues, superiors, and even brothers in my own community I have learned to appreciate them rather than build a wall between the frustrated ‘ranter’ and me.
OK, I confess. I just made up a word: ranter. Now get past your linguistic indignation and stay with me.
While I’m sitting there listening to my brother rant on about something, it can be the flavor of ice cream, I’m aware that rants don’t have to be rational. But while I’m apparently listening to the rant, the truth is that I’ve learned to close my ears off to the rant. I open my eyes to other things and listen to those instead. It has often been a humbling experience. Allow me to explain.
My brother is ranting because something is bothering him. Why else rant? This does not mean that his annoyance is justified. Sometimes our annoyance is either irrational or exaggerated. But that’s not important and this is where we go wrong. We begin to look for the rationality in the other person’s discourse and being unable to find it, we return rant with rant.
On the other hand, observing Jesus in the Gospels and St. Francis of Assisi in his dealings with the first generation Franciscans, I noticed that they look at the heart of the ranter and listen to his inner voice.
Christ, very often, tells the Pharisees that they are closed minded, hard-hearted, proud and ignorant. But he never tells them that they are irrational, exaggerating, rude, or obnoxious. That’s not to say that they were not. It just means that Christ finds the truth about a man in his heart, not in his emotional outbursts. When he looked into the hearts of some of the Pharisees, he saw some serious character flaws.
At the same time, when he looked into the heart of some other ranters and whiners, he saw an innocence, ignorance, or uncertainty that kept him coming back to them and inspired him to call his apostles, “Friends”.
I noticed the same behavior in our holy father St. Francis when dealing with the early brothers. While one group ranted about the rule being too impractical and another group ranted about the first group being too liberal, Francis never returned a rant with a rant. He never lost his cool. He never told them to go away. He politely listened and said what he felt needed to be said and went on his way.
Through the years I’ve contemplated how Jesus and Francis responded to rants. I’ve integrated these observations along my parents’ style of communication; I’ve come to the conclusion that a rant can be like heart surgery . . . usually a great discomfort, but lifesaving.
Recently, one of my brothers was ranting at me (the reason is irrelevant and no, I did not kill the cat…). As he went on and on, I heard what he was not saying. He was hurt by something. I had failed to respond in the manner that he felt I should. Therefore, he was hurt by my behavior, because I came across as indifferent to something important to him. While we all claim that we are not concerned with what the world thinks, we all know this is not true. We care very much, especially those people with him we share the world the closest. As I thought of this, I realized that had it been someone else who ignored that which was important to the brother, it may have annoyed him or even made him angry, but it would not have hurt. What I was listening to was not a rant. The rant is the noise made by pain.
Before we go on to think that we must yield to everyone who rants, out of pity for their pain, let’s clarify something. Some people are in pain because their expectations are unreasonable or even irrational. Others are in pain because they never bothered to share their expectations, concerns, fears and loves with the other person. Suddenly, something goes wrong and they explode, leaving the other person feeling confused or even angry in return.
The point is that when someone rants at you, try to see his heart and listen to his pain. Then you can decide for yourself whether he is being reasonable or not.
In my particular case, during my last encounter with a rant, what I saw was a wounded heart, because I had failed to do something that would have validated my brother. As he ranted, I examined my conscience and realized that I had failed in spiritual friendship. I know this mean intimately. I should have responded to a sensibility of which I am well aware. I also heard, “I love you,” under his rant. “If I didn’t love you, I could care less how you respond to my feelings.” To me, there is nothing more humbling than being loved.
The next time that someone rants at you, try to SEE what’s in the heart and HEAR the emotion communicated by the soul. You may find that the person ranting at you is your best friend, not a pesky fly.