As you might imagine I read, skim, and scan (let’s just call that all “consume”, shall we?) a lot of content as I pull together 7 Takeaways each week. I do the same for Not All News is Bad, for that matter. (I do it for Ask Leo! as well, but that’s different for the purposes of this discussion.)
Some items call to me, and I’ve never been quite sure why. If you’d asked me my criteria I would have said I have no idea, but, like porn, I just know it when I see it.
As I was meditating this morning one of the reasons made itself known.
We live in a culture of complaint.
Much of what I stumble into are articles written not so much to inform or move forward but to vent, shame, or point fingers, or to express superiority over another person, or group.
Most of the authors would not admit it. Most don’t even see it.
While many are thinly-veiled rants the author would claim their intent is noble — and it probably is. By exposing stupidity or moral failings or just out-and-out mistakes, they see the writing as an attempt to educate or lead by counter-example. “Here’s an example of what NOT to do, believe, or think.”
It’s often accompanied by an implicit “and you and I, gentle reader, know we’re better than that”.
Don’t get me wrong. I loves me a good rant. Some of the best writers I know are masters of the art. A well-written rant can be a thing of beauty.
And I also understand venting. I really do.
But while the author might be completely honest in believing their words are meant to educate or make a point, if it comes from a position of superiority, if it’s just pointing out the failings in others, if it’s just a private rant made public, it’s generally just a selfish act. It serves to reinforce their superiority and that of their like-minded audience. They all walk away feeling a little better about themselves for a few moments.
I might enjoy the rant, but it’s typically entertainment and not growth. I don’t walk away feeling like I’m a better person for having spent my time on it.
And therein lies this morning’s revelation.
The items I gravitate towards usually share a couple of characteristics.
First, the author is humble. I don’t mean they’re a passive milquetoast. It’s just clear they’re not trying to prove themselves better than anyone else. It’s often clear they are open to being wrong. They’re focusing on a point, and not themselves.
They can make the same points as a rant, but without shaming others.
Second, they focus on solutions and growth. They share ways to further consider the topic at hand. They offer new perspectives to consider, new research to embark on, or related materials to learn more. They often offer specific actions to take.
They teach rather than lecture.
The difference is subtle but important.
It’s the difference between the authoritarian high school teacher expecting you to take their word as gospel because they were The Teacher, and those who actually taught the material, helping their students along the way.
We loved those teachers.
I love those authors.
I gravitate to those whose goal is not to shame but to grow. Those for whom coming to the end of one of their works I realize I have a new perspective, new information, or just somehow felt like I had grown in some way.
To be clear: it’s not black and white. It’s a spectrum.
But what calls to me, what stacks the deck in favor of my investing my most precious resource — time — are those authors and works that are clearly and consistently about solutions and growth.
Moments after I published this, ReadWise reminded me of this quote I’d highlighted in an article I’d read:
The best performing content is selfless, not selfish.
– Ten Things I Wish Content Creators Knew Before Going All In – Tim Denning