Now let’s be reasonable…

I’ll be honest: there are a lot of things people say that I dislike hearing.  A few phrases come to mind.  “That’s a tall drink of water,” is one of my least favorites, both because it is an objectifying phrase and because it never refers to a glass of water.  While I’m on the height thing, it’s also extremely annoying when people tell me I’m tall.  “You’re tall!” they tell me, as though I somehow missed that fact.  I never know how to respond to statements like that, especially when the person making the statement is a stranger to me.  Is it rude if I say, “Really? I’d never noticed!”  Yes, probably.  I hate being rude, but I’m OK with awkward, so I usually just agree, “Yes, yes I am,” and then wait expectantly for the person to say something to which I can actually respond.

I am very tall for a lady (tall for a man, too, actually), so I get these comments a lot.  I strongly dislike them, but I understand that height is generally considered favorable in our culture, and most of the folk commenting on my extreme height are trying, in a strange (to me) fashion, to compliment me.

There are, of course, plenty more phrases that I dislike, but there are also a few that I outright hate.  One of them is, “Let’s be reasonable,” or any variant thereof (e.g., “I think, if you could be reasonable about this, that you’d see…” or “You’re being unreasonable…” or “Let’s think about this rationally…” or “Let’s put emotion aside for just a moment, shall we, and talk about this like adults…”).  I truly hate these types of phrases, and it amuses me to provide a list of reasons why, a rationale, if you will (hardy har).

  1. Reason and rationality are not absolutes but are subjective.  What is reasonable and rational to one person will not be so to another, so the phrase, “Let’s be reasonable,” contains within itself a logical flaw.  The person saying that phrase might as well say, “I wish you would just think like I do.”
  2. Building upon that first argument, “Let’s be reasonable” is pejorative, implying that the receiver of the phrase has succumbed to all manner of irrationality and needs to be brought back to a reasonable track.
  3. While not strictly logical, I find that my dislike of this phrase is influenced by some of the particulars of circumstance under which I have heard this phrase throughout my life.  When I think about the phrase, it’s always a man’s voice that I hear in my head.  The logic, reason, and rationality to which I feel chastened to stick is always a man’s logic, reason, and rationality, and, now that I am well and truly an adult, I most often hear this phrase uttered whenever I attempt to explain what it is like to be a woman in today’s world to a man.  It has become a gendered phrase to me.

Cover image, Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

Oh, come on… you knew all this would somehow relate to a romance novel.  (First, a distraction: the dude’s ring on the cover is laughably huge, right? You know what they say about giant rings…)  Anyway, don’t judge this book by the cover model’s ginormous jewelry–the book is fantastic.  After reading The Governess Affair, I went on a bit of a Courtney Milan reading kick and read all four books in the Turner series (Unveiled, Unlocked, Unclaimed & Unraveledon four consecutive days.  She has several more books out that I haven’t yet gobbled up, books that I am holding in reserve to savor while I wait for her upcoming books to be released.  Milan’s writing is like the best wine I’ve ever had: intoxicating but best enjoyed slowly and with deep appreciation for all of the nuances of flavor and texture.

Unclaimed is a beautiful love story set in the early Victorian era between two unlikely lovers, a man famous for his virtue and lifelong chastity and a courtesan who intends to seduce and betray him.  My favorite moment in the book comes near the end when Jessica (the heroine) confronts the villain of the piece, a former protector who did a bad, bad thing to her.  He, somewhat predictably, does not recognize that he did anything wrong, so she clues him in.  His response is to reject that any harm was done by suggesting that she’s just being unreasonable.

“Come now, Jess. You’re upset, I see that. But let’s be rational about this.”
Her voice was shaking. “I am not your victim. And I am being rational. The only way to win is to rid myself of you. You look at me and the only thing you can see is a possession, something that you can pick up and use however you want.”

When I read that line, I was reminded of a few lines from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Women can’t add, he once said, jokingly. When I asked him what he meant, he said, For them, one and one and one and one don’t make four.
What do they make? I said, expecting five or three.
Just one and one and one and one, he said. (175)

What the Commander said is true. One and one and one and one doesn’t equal four. Each one remains unique, there is no way of joining them together. They cannot be exchanged, one for the other. They cannot replace each other. (179)

I am reasonably certain that there is not only one form of reason, only one way to be rational.  There may be different perspectives that one cannot understand, but one’s inability to comprehend another’s rationale is not in itself a sufficient argument that the incomprehensible rationale is flawed or invalid.  Sometimes it just means that one is a bit slow on the uptake.

I wanted to write that we as a society seem to have lost touch with our ability to validate perspectives that we do not personally share, but then I wondered if we ever had that ability in the first place.  Perhaps to be human is to presuppose that one is correct and that others are not only wrong but also stupid and crazy.

7 thoughts on “Now let’s be reasonable…

  1. I’m not sure that’s true, or there would be no reason to read books. Or watch movies, or look at art. We do that because we WANT to look at the world through others’ experiences, we want to see something other than our own reality. If we were predisposed to only think our own experiences were valid, we’d only be interested in our creations. I think the loss of perspective you refer to is more of a loss of imagination and complete myopathy.

    In any event, have you read the Vicky Bliss series by Elizabeth Peters? The heroine of that series is tall and is always like, “Why are people always commenting on how tall I am??? Thanks, jerks!”

    • See, this is why I love blogging! It’s so easy to get stuck in my own perspective, and sometimes my perspective is wrong (or just not quite right…). I read books because I think too much (it gets crazy), and it’s helpful to have something direct those thoughts, and because I’ve never been terribly good at social things, and books are friends. The side effect of my reading so much is that I am exposed to a whole panoply of perspectives on life and the world, should I choose to accept and acknowledge those different perspectives. It is possible, however, to read for pleasure not to broaden one’s horizons but to confirm one’s own beliefs. (It’s sort of like the readers’ version of watching Fox News or MSNBC or CNN not to discover more about the world but to confirm that the worldview that one already has is valid and does not need to change.) I never do well when I converse with someone who insists that his or her perspective is Right and that mine, simply by virtue of being different, must be Wrong and, further, illogical. I might be wrong (it’s been known to happen), but the argument “You’re wrong because I don’t think that way” doesn’t hold much water with me.

      My problem, of course, is that I tend to generalize (notice how I just generalized?) and apply an idea that germinated out of a few select experiences to a broad swath of humanity.

      I think I’ve read one Elizabeth Peters book (it was funny and charming), but I’ve never heard of that series. I’ll have to check it out – somewhat unsurprisingly, I love books that feature tall female characters. 🙂

      • Yes, but art, even it does reinforce your worldview, is inherently the interpretation of reality through the vision of someone else. I think we turn to stories and art because it gives us a connection with other people by letting us see things through their eyes. Even if we deliberately avoid things that we know will disagree with our own perspective (eg, I refuse to read anything cynical), it’s still something outside ourselves. It may reinforce our beliefs, but it also gives us sympathy with a broader human experience.

        That being said, I’m not sure I would classify Fox News as “art.” 😉

      • Can it be “performance art”?

        OK, I accept the premise that human beings feel a deep, perhaps instinctive, need to connect to other human beings on all available levels (that draw to society), art being one of those levels (inserted tangent: art not only connects human beings to one another but also connects human beings to an idea that is higher than humanity /tangent), but then why do people fall on the “now, let’s be reasonable, here,” line whenever confronted with a perspective that is beyond their ability to comprehend, thereby rejecting as invalid said perspective?

        Of course, maybe those instances are a one off… I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve engaged in a weighty conversation–like this one–with someone and found that their view of things contrasts sharply with mine. If it turned out that my view was a trifle (or a lot) off the mark, I usually didn’t catch on right away. It could take weeks or months or me to revise my stance and accept whatever they were saying. Maybe all this time all those folks who have ever “Now, let’s be reasonable”ed me actually came to repent their words after a few weeks of thought… Who knows?

      • Okay, I think I see what’s happening here (?). I’m talking about the value of art, whereas you’re thinking more political arguments/debate, which I think are two different things. Art doesn’t necessarily present an argument, but it allows you see the human experience of other people. Political debate doesn’t do that; and in fact in most debates, people go into them with a standing opinion that they defend to the death and might only revise once the debate is over. When people say, “Let’s be reasonable,” in response to your arguments, they’re basically saying they’ve already discounted all your experiences as being irrelevant and your suggestions as unreasonable. What I’m saying is, if they allowed themselves to be influenced by art instead of propaganda, they would (theoretically) be open to seeing other people’s experiences and opinions as valid, even if they didn’t agree with them.

      • Yes, I think we might be arguing the same side, ish, each through the lens of our respective professional perspectives. You, an art historian, argue the relevance and value of art, and I, a political scientist, bemoan the social (broad) and interpersonal (narrow) difficulties that humans face whenever they attempt to communicate with each other by any means, and, being a political scientist, I consider art one of those means—though I recognize that art serves a higher purpose and is an end unto itself. (As an aside, political scientists tend not to solve the world’s problems. We just point to them and say, “Dude, check it out… that right there is a problem.”) I think we have each proved our own point, but I suspect your point has greater importance. Yes, communication between human beings is difficult, and yes, it is always tempting for human beings to take the easiest path forward, which, in a conversation, discussion, argument, debate, marriage, friendship, etc., will often manifest in resisting any challenge to one’s previously-held beliefs (thereby ending any true communication), but art—if one allows it–can transcend that communication block and enable one to experience the world through another’s eyes, thereby improving one’s chances of connecting and communicating with another human being.
        As a mostly unrelated note, isn’t it a trifle ridiculous when I put on my fancy-pants voice? I think I spent too much time reading DH Lawrence during my formative years… (Call me Gudrun…)

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