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I remember as if it were yesterday the happy day I learned that radical and radish source from the same root word, radix, Latin for root. I loved it because radish is a root vegetable, making the fact doubly so, and because radicals, at the time, scared me a little . . . no, a lot, because they tended to rant, but if I thought of radicals as red-faced root vegetables that become tasteless and woodier, the longer you let them grow, then I had less to fear from their noises. I may even have uttered “Hur-rah!” thereby summoning the protection of the patron saint of Egyptian homecomings.

Billy Connolly, my all-time favourite ranter. No woody veg grows in his lot.

I don’t scare so easy now and have also learned to appreciate ranting. I’ve come to adore radical thinkers who can, with wit and precision, fire up a head of steam and bulldoze over hypocrisies and the cheap fence seating we put up, and not give a tailor’s twiddle about how much they are liked. Billy Connolly, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart—they’ll take on all of us. They are not partisan muckrakers.

I love the emotional freedom that comes from pulling an uncomfortable topic up by the roots and brandishing it like a big fat woody radish: “Look at this! This is what we are or what we might become if we let our thoughts about XYZ grow past their harvest date.”

Most of what I encounter in real and virtual worlds, and perhaps this is true for you too, does not qualify as ranting or radical thought. It is bludgeoning, the repetitive thumping of a personal opinion, over and over, redundantly, to the point of way-too-much-kill.

What we’re mostly seeing in these instances are pout-ons, harrumphs against the world. A pout-on, unexamined, is neither radical nor rant. It’s a tantrum pulled like taffy (tapeworm would be too icky an analogy) from some long-ago thwart that probably involved not being able to play outside after dark or finding one’s refrigerator art in the garbage.

The things people did to us then, people seem to keep doing, long after the original perps have moved on, only now we perceive our thwarters as political opposition, or that other religion, or my ex, or the pain in my joints. A complaint that keeps on giving has deep roots, to be sure, but a stadium of fellow radish growers, no matter how reassuring, cannot pull the roots up for us, and the harvest will still taste like crap.

Tell me what upsets you, I’m fine with that; I will do my best to empathize. Once I’ve registered a person’s opinion, however, on a computer model or brand of beer or the issue of gun control; and if I’m not in a position to supply that person with a laptop, Danish lager or legislation, for or against, then their going on and on about it turns pretty quick to white noise. Worse, my fed-up limbic system begins to define that person by the repetitions and not what makes him/her radical…i.e., unique and lovable. It is our uniqueness that originates, I believe, that creates the change we want to see, to paraphrase Gandhi.

I don’t know if changing the world is why we’re given these revolutions around the sun, each one more precious—or ought to be—because they’re not forever, but if it is, I hope to learn from the growers of the world and find joyful, crazy-loving ways to let my personal overgrown radishes go to seed.

© Elaine Stirling, 2012

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