Fatal Reasonableness

The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself.
All progress depends on the unreasonable man.

– George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

My regular readers know how fond I am of the Shaw quote above. In my view, we have never before been in such need for unreasonableness as the present day. Reasonableness is literally killing us. We are allowing things to go unchecked, uncorrected and unchallenged because we refuse to get unreasonable in our demands for a fully functional, peaceful and sustainable society.

Just because the systems we’ve created have devolved into chronic dysfunction, there is no excuse to allow them to continue dictating our values, our lifestyles and our thinking. It is bad enough to be an indentured servant but when the slave master is dysfunctional the situation worsens, even becomes life-threatening.

We have become slaves to the systems we’ve created. This isn’t necessarily intolerable when the systems are healthy. Benevolent dictators are sometimes better than total anarchy. But anarchy could be a huge improvement over a crazy tyrant.

Unlike the crazy tyrant who can oppress dissent through force or threat of force, our unhealthy and unsustainable systems are allowed to continue merely through the legitimacy they receive from us, the reasonable people who make them up!

Reasonableness tells us to play it safe, not to make waves, let someone else take a risk in blowing the whistle. Reasonableness tells us to remain quiet when “heresy” is being spoken, avoiding being seen as one of the heretics. Reasonableness tells us to duck whenever anyone else is getting any heat about challenging the system, to find some way to busy ourselves. Reasonableness tells us we have family responsibilities and cannot afford to question authority or challenge the “way things are around here.” Reasonableness tells us to avoid being seen with the heretics, the whistleblowers, anyone who might be perceived as not conforming to the party line.

What passes for “reasonable” these days only makes sense in a culture based on fear, scarcity and immediacy. It makes total sense to the mindset steeped in this culture. However, if you wish a culture based on compassion, interconnectivity and long-term sustainability this mindset is outmoded and the behavior it judges to be “reasonable” is self-destructivel. What is reasonable in one context is unreasonable in another.

Recently, I was talking with a friend who was raised in a very dysfunctional family. After leaving home, she realized how low her self esteem was and engaged in psychotherapy which eventually evolved into a major commitment to her self-discovery. Now a fully-functioning and emotionally healthy woman, she no longer conforms to the behaviors with which she was raised. Her family looks at her as an “odd ball” even using the word “insane” from time to time. This is what dysfunctional systems do: they demand conforming behavior then label any member outside of its parameters crazy. What was “reasonable” behavior in her family system means to conform to the craziness. Her recovery as a healthy, functioning woman threatens the system so it brands her insane and whacky (or unreasonable).

If we do not get unreasonable soon, our organizations will continue their tailspin until they implode. As this worsens in our systems, healthy people will leave and seek more functional environments. Eventually, agreement, confidence and trust among stakeholders, primary foundations for a healthy marketplace, will erode and possibly trigger a financial crisis. This is how our reasonableness – our stubborn attachment to the old culture or paradigm – can lead to our demise.

One way to begin restoring functionality in our organizations and institutions, and thus prevent mass loss of trust, agreement and confidence, is to begin thinking and acting in ways that are consistent with the reality we wish to see, not the reality that is on the wane, the one in its death throes. Thinking and living from this new reasonableness, call it “reasonableness 2.0,” will take foresight and courage. It will entail bucking the existing system to which most people are extremely attached. Most people are unaware there is any alternative other than enduring and coping as best they can without hope for substantial improvement much less an entirely new worldview.

As those who see or simply sense there is a better way, a more functional paradigm, start coming forth publicly this new worldview will be given birth. These futureshapers – tomorrow’s champions for sanity – are the ones willing to be unreasonable in the land of reasonableness. Will you be one of us?