Adobe Stock
We shout because we don’t feel heard. If whispering falls on deaf ears, then raising our voices will get our point across, or so the fallacy goes.

It’s been nearly two weeks since Roseanne Barr’s racism compelled ABC to pull the plug to its top-performing show. The news networks have moved on, yet I can’t seem to stop chewing on this particular incident. It’s not that I’ll miss the sitcom (I have a general disdain for reboots anyway), and it’s not that I think, as some may, Roseanne got the short end of the stick while Samantha Bee got a free pass.

No, it’s the proximity of abhorrent remarks from those two TV personalities that has me bothered.

Within 48 hours, a sitcom star compared a former government aide to a contorted animal, and a late-night comedian lobbed an “inexcusable” expletive at the president’s daughter.

That’s what troubles me. Two days could not go by without gross insults making their way to the national stage. And I would be ignorant to suppose such language doesn’t reach the eyes or ears of millions each day. The only difference for us commoners is a news network decides not to pick it up.

Despite all the ensuing coverage and politicizing from the Roseanne and Samantha showdown, not one talking head has asked the right question: Why did they say what they said?

In other words, what drives someone to insult, deride or dehumanize another? Of course, we might get to these answers if it was not for all the shouting. Which brings up another thoughtful question with no moderator to ask it: What motivates someone to shout?

Shouting is sometimes all we hear or read today. And sadly, shouting weasels its way into our personal relationships, even with those whom we love. I’m certain no one is so naive as to believe the loudest voice in the room emerges victorious every time, so why do we do it?

One theory is simple: We shout because we don’t feel heard. If whispering falls on deaf ears, then raising our voices will get our point across, or so the fallacy goes. The result is what I call a volume war. I’ve spent more than a few years in various rock bands playing in dingy music halls, and every gig is the same: The stage volume is set during sound check. After a couple of songs, the guitarist gets excited and cranks his amp. Then the bassist can’t hear herself so she turns up the dial. The singer, out of necessity, turns up his stage monitor. By the end of the set, the crowd hears nothing more than jumbled noise, and everyone goes home to nurse their bleeding ears.

Turning up is never the answer. The solution for bandmates, however, is elegant. In-ear monitors — glorified noise-canceling ear buds — block peripheral noise and feed the musician a clean mix of the rest of the band. Everyone hears each other, eliminating any need to turn up the stage volume. The concert continues at the right level, and everyone wins.

A recent example expresses this idea more poignantly. My wife and her friend visited the Utah Pride Festival last weekend. At the entrance to the park, as my wife described to me, was a miserable scene comprised of Christian protesters condemning LGBT passers-by to eternal torment and frustrated counter-protesters shouting about loving everyone.

Beyond the entrance, however, was an environment of hope. As my wife visited booths designed to raise awareness to particular challenges within the LGBT community and offer resources for people to come together and discuss differences, the mood settled into one of respect. The contrast could not have been more stark — the outside was a filthy boxing match while the inside was a civilized classroom.

From Roseanne to the Pride Festival, I will defend the legality of shouted speech until I’m blue in the face, but having the right to say something does not always make it right. Criticizing or ridiculing is the easy route; it takes real effort to compliment and uplift another. It’s even more arduous to keep quiet when provoked.

8 comments on this story

The ultimate solution is to listen. Don’t confuse that with not speaking — although our mouths are shut, our minds often replay the same old arguments. Actively listening is difficult and requires us to entertain the notion that we don’t have all the answers. But when others feel heard, valued and respected, shouting evolves into productive conversation.

“Don't raise your voice, improve your argument,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a man who has faced his share of shouts from protesters. We would do well to listen to his advice.