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.

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