"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." -- George Bernard Shaw
Earlier today, my father was teasing me about "the unreasonable paranoid fit [I] experienced last week," as he called it. The term "paranoid" did not bother me, nor did "fit." But I took umbrage that he deemed my paranoid fit "unreasonable."
"Whatever. That was perfectly reasonable."
The "'unreasonable' paranoid fit" in question had been precipitated by a friend, Caleb, who without warning had begun to give me the silent treatment. Previously, I had been living at his place, left (on good terms with him) for the weekend to visit my parents, and subsequently became unable to contact him. He did not return my phone messages or emails and I had no other means of reaching him.
Sure, he could have just been on an abnormally debilitating depressive tip. And, I knew he owed his business partners some thrice overdue work, so he could have been ignoring human contact completely (he never leaves his apartment anyhow) to escape from feeling like the slacker that he is and to dig himself in deeper to his hole to wallow in his self-pity more effectively. Fine. I've been there too.
But what deeply worried me was that if, for some reason, I had fallen into disfavor with Caleb, that he would destroy me by any means necessary. I have seen him surreptitiously record conversations, blackmail enemies, and punch below the belt. These tactics applied to his enemies only, of course. Nothing particularly abnormal about it. He is, like many people scorned, ruthless.
So, after several days of brooding and wondering if Caleb was still my friend, or whether he was, at that very minute, searching through the possessions I had left at his apartment, breaking into my laptop and pouring over my diary, I had become a nervous wreck. There is no question in my mind that this is how he would react if he strongly suspected that I had crossed him. I had no idea why he might think so but, by the same token, I had no idea why he was not responding to me. I had been living at his apartment during the week (for work) and could not get return from my parents' house to his place without his letting me in. Finally, I had decided to drive to his apartment, lean on the buzzer until he let me in, and move my things out. (This being the aforementioned "unreasonable paranoid fit.") As it turned out, my suspicion that he was just avoiding everyone was correct, and we parted for the day, still friends.
"I wasn't being unreasonable, Caleb is unreasonable! That is why I treated the situation with the requisite caution!"
I have always felt that there are two types of people in the world: reasonable people, and unreasonable people.
As a general rule, I avoid intimacy (platonic or otherwise) with people whom I sense are unreasonable.2 Given that I find being unreasonable the most alienating of all human traits, it is strange that until my argument with my father earlier today I had no precise definition of what qualifies one as "unreasonable." All I knew was that some people just give me the willies, that the existential divide between us is unquestionably insurmountable.
You know you should not get too close to these people because they make terrible enemies. Their conviction in
conflict has a certain eerie abandon. These are the people that win drawn out arguments merely because they will not lose an argument. These are the people that I find unreasonable. But, this is an imprecise and fuzzy definition of "unreasonable."
Today, I have been unable to pinpoint and articulate what, precisely, qualifies someone as unreasonable.
Gerry Spence, in his excellent book How To Argue and Win Every Time, makes the point that to win an argument is not to "beat the opponent" but to get what you want (regardless of whether the other believes that you "won" or "lost" the argument).3 It is perfectly natural to get wrapped up in competition, to argue for the sake of arguing, when it comes to everyday arguments. But most people, when faced with a great argument or conflict, would rather compromise than win at any cost.
Unreasonable people are those people that, in great conflict, lose sight of their goals and would rather "win" the conflict, even if the victory is Pyrrhic. Or, restated, in great conflict, their goals are indistinguishable from a victory derived from overcoming the opponent.
They lose sight of their logic and rationality4 and are drowned by their emotion. And, when they feel that they have been wronged, their emotions whisper one word, over and over: revenge. These are the people who desire retribution. These are the people who desire punishment.
I will never understand them. And I will never be able to reason with them.
"Revenge is always the weak pleasure of a little and narrow mind." --Juvenal
"He who seeks revenge should remember to dig two graves." --Chinese proverb
"Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful." --Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human
1I realize that if you want to be technical then my definition of unreasonable is narrow. But, bear with me, I am making a larger point.
2In my life, I have only put myself in a position to be deeply wounded by two unreasonable people: My mother and my one, now gone, love. My bond with the former is too strong for her to want to claw my eyes out. The latter? I am sure you can guess.
3Again, this definition is perhaps self-evident, but many people lost sight of it when it comes to everyday arguments. Until I read this book, I would argue not to get my ends but to win the argument. Another of the key points in Gerry Spence's book is that story-telling is the best way to make any argument. When I began writing this node, I felt like something was lacking, so I took his advice to heart and added the story at the beginning. It makes for a more compelling read, n'est pas?
4Keep in mind that using logic and rationality to achieve your objectives in a conflict does not mean that your objectives must be logical and rational, but merely that you do not go about achieving your goals in a manner that is self-defeating or self-mortifying.