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Why I don’t want to be reasonable

The curse

I see myself as a reasonable person. I would describe my friends as reasonable people. I guess most of us would like to be seen as reasonable people.

You too? Right. We’re all in the same boat.

And so we’re all afflicted with the same curse – the curse of reasonableness.

But isn’t this ‘a good ‘thing’? Isn’t it what helps the world go round? Not necessarily!

Imagine this scenario.

You have a colleague who is in trouble. You have contact with her on a regular basis but don’t have a relationship outside work. She asks you to use your professional skills to help her. Saying ‘Yes’ to her request would involve you in about three hours travelling time and a day away from your business.

The way we think

What do you say? What influences your response? Most probably, you think in terms of what’s reasonable.

Let’s look at what might be going on.

  • “I ought to say yes.” Implicit thought: “It would be unreasonable of me not to.”
  • “She’s got herself into this mess and now she’s asking me to get her out of it.” Implicit thought: It’s her own fault that she’s where she is – and so it’s unreasonable for her to ask me to rescue her.
  • “I don’t know what she thinks I can do for her.” Implicit thought: It’s unreasonable of her even to ask me.
  • “It would take me a whole day – not to mention the travelling.” Implicit thought: It’s not a reasonable thing to ask of me.

What might follow:

  • “If she’s willing to pay me, how much should I ask for?” Implicit thought: What would be reasonable to ask for?

When I catch myself thinking like this, I remind myself to do three things:

  • I notice how easy it is to think judgmentally – is it or is it not reasonable? And I don’t pile on the judgments by telling myself I shouldn’t!
  • I think instead: ‘what feelings are triggered by the request – and what does this tell me about my needs?’
  • I let my response be shaped by my needs rather than by my judgments of reasonableness.

How does this affect my decision?

Well, I might end up doing the same things – but for different reasons and with a different quality of energy. Try looking at it like this:

  • If I say yes, it might be because I take joy from helping people (rather than because I bear the heavy weight of what I think I ought to do).
  • If I ask for payment, my request might reflect a longing for a contribution to my own wellbeing and a recognition of the value of what I can offer (rather than as recompense for doing something I might resent doing – but tell myself I ought to do)
  • If I decline, it would not be because I’m judging the person and the request, but because I wish to put my energies into something I believe would have an outcome I would enjoy.
  • If the request would take more time than I’m willing to offer, then I would say so rather than acquiesce and then grumble inwardly about the other person’s unreasonableness.

What difference does it make?

Now imagine that you’re the person making the request.

Wouldn’t you like to be able to trust that a ‘yes’ was given willingly and that you could trust that the ‘no’ was an authentic and clear expression of another person’s needs? I know I would!

I know what it’s like to be afflicted by the curse of reasonableness and the rift it opens up between my head and my heart.

Getting to the point of responding from a real awareness of my needs was a liberating experience. Try it for yourself! Then let me know what happens.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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