When life seems it could not possibly get weirder, history is there to show us some things change while others do not.
Many of us cleave to reason. Okay, some of us.
Humans will never operate in a completely rational way. Nevertheless, the goal of seeking knowledge is critical. Beginning from an inquisitive starting point instead of overblown, unwarranted confidence. Developing openness to hearing, learning, and adjusting. Maintaining our willingness to pay attention, to find something out, and to alter our thinking, even when it is uncomfortable.
That is some of us.
The world has always known petty, angry people. In ancient times, they simply did not have Twitter accounts.
About 2000 years ago, Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher, delved into the topic of anger. In his work Of Anger, he said this:
“Reason gives each side time to plead; moreover, she herself demands adjournment, that she may have sufficient scope for the discovery of the truth; whereas anger is in a hurry: reason wishes to give a just decision; anger wishes its decision to be thought just: reason looks no further than the matter in hand; anger is excited by empty matters hovering on the outskirts of the case … It often condemns a man because it dislikes his patron; it loves and maintains error even when truth is staring it in the face. It hates to be proved wrong, and thinks it more honourable to persevere in a mistaken line of conduct than to retract it.”
Do you know any people who love and maintain error even when truth stares them in the face?
How about anyone who, “hates to be proved wrong, and thinks it more honourable to persevere in a mistaken line of conduct than to retract it”?
I can think of a few people. Watch any press conferences lately? I picture an angry man with a shovel digging a deeper and deeper hole out of which to shout.
Speaking of shouting, Seneca also wrote this:
“Irascibility, I say, has this fault—it is loath to be ruled: it is angry with the truth itself, if it comes to light against its will: it assails those whom it has marked for its victims with shouting and riotous noise and gesticulation of the entire body, together with reproaches and curses.”
Seneca serves us best in helping us pull back from the present cascade of media, debate, and argument. He shows us that, first, human nature goes little changed for millennia. Second, calm consideration—taking time to discover the truth—leads to reasoned and rational response.
Some people will never, ever move toward rational thought. They will not make the effort because there is no point. Nothing is wrong with how they think or behave. Rousing quickly to anger is something they do well, a strategy that maintains their confidence.
None of this matters.
We make better decisions—including how we respond to irrational, angry people—when we take that step back. It is not a matter of being nice and kind (although those are good habits). It is a matter of best positioning yourself to excel. To win arguments, make better points, or raise somewhat well-adjusted children.
It is not about deciding which side we are on in every discussion and sticking to our guns—or words. Our daily goal should be thus: Check in with ourselves when we sense we may have become overconfident in our position. Notice whether we hate being proved wrong so much that reason cannot get through our defenses. People who seek growth and progress can do this. They are the ones able to think nimbly, grasp many points of view, and open their minds to alternatives.
Remember: “Reason wishes to give a just decision.”
We owe it to our communities and each other to see reason through.