“In contrast to logic, there is the Spirit of Reasonableness. Reasonable thinking is just humanized thinking. The logical man is always self-righteous, never self-questioning, and therefore inhuman and therefore wrong, while the reasonable man suspect that perhaps he may well be wrong and therefore is always right.
The reasonable spirit humanizes all of our thinking, and makes us less sure of our own correctness. Its tendency is to round out our ideas and tone down the angularities of our conduct. The opposite of the reasonable spirit is fanaticism, extremism, and dogmatism (unthinkingness, unquestioningness) of all sorts in thought and behavior, in our individual life, professional and public life, marriage, religion, and politics.
I think of the Spirit of Reasonableness as the highest and sanest ideal of human culture, and the reasonable man as the highest type of cultivated human being. No one can be perfect; he can only aim at being a likeable, reasonable being. I look forward to the time when the people of the world will be informed with this reasonable spirit, both in their personal and public affairs, when reasonable husbands and wives live in happiness. In the selection of husbands for my daughters, I have only one standard: is he a reasonable person? We cannot imagine perfect husbands and wives who never quarrel; we can only conceive of reasonable husbands and wives who quarrel reasonably and then patch up reasonably. Only in a world of reasonable beings can we have peace and happiness. The Reasonable Age, if that should ever come about, will be the Age of Peace. It will be the age in which the Spirit of Reasonableness prevails.”
– Lin Yutang, “The Importance of Living,” abridged and adapted from pp. 423-6.
Our relationships are reflections of what we are.
When a relationship occurs between two people who are genuinely decent and reasonable—or who are trying more and more every day to grow and become more and more decent and reasonable human beings—then the relationship itself becomes an expression of that reasonableness and basic goodness or decency—it becomes an expressions of mutual kindness, thoughtfulness, understanding, warmth, appreciativeness, forgiveness, transparency, openness, resilience, affection, compassion, humor, playfulness, joie de vivre, self-examination, goodness. In short, it becomes an expression of Love; a form of heaven on earth.
However when a relationship occurs between two people who are not very reasonable, and who are not really particularly interested in being very good or decent, then the relationship becomes an expression of this—of their particular forms of selfishness and psychopathology, their lack of decency and goodness and reasonableness. It becomes rife with a lack of gratitude, a lack of perspective, a lack of thought or thoughtfulness and or awareness, it becomes weighted-down with impulsivity, self-centeredness, moodiness, dishonesty, self-deceptiveness, compartmentalizing, inconsistency, instability, a lack of conscience, lack of self-examination and self-scrutiny, their diagnosed or undiagnosed personality disorders (antisocial, narcissism, borderline, et cetera).
As we are, so too are our relationships—especially our most intimate ones. They become the clearest expressions or reflections of what and who we are as human beings, what we stand for, what we value, what we’re really about.
In a relationship where both people are truly decent and reasonable—i.e. generally grateful, appreciative, thankful, Loving, kind, self-aware, thoughtful, understanding, growing—then arguments and discussions aren’t about who’s right, but what’s right. And this is because both people basically have themselves more or less “under control”—they are fairly self-aware and they know themselves—and can do so in real time or near real time; they are more interested in truth and reality than they are in protecting their ego and not being wrong; they are more interested in growing and learning than they are in protecting themselves from feeling ashamed or not good enough or like they’ve failed or fallen short in some way. For truly reasonable and decent people, truth and reality are a very, very high priority, perhaps two of the highest, if not highest, priorities.
Thus truly reasonable and decent human beings, because they also tend to be genuinely loving and growing individuals, will seek and foster compromise, understanding, discussion, depth, honesty, clarity, openness, transparency.
But for less reasonable and less decent people, truth is not nearly the priority that comfort and not feeling bad or ashamed or inadequate, and being “right,” is. That is because for people who have not yet prioritized becoming more reasonable and decent and Loving, life still revolves around their ego and the more ancient parts of their brain—their amygdala, their emotions, their survival and self-protective instincts. Their higher faculties and possibilities—objectivity, Truth, wisdom, discernment, conscience, doubt and questioning and curiosity, goodness—haven’t yet kicked in and taken over their brains, they haven’t become the predominant theme or motivating force in their existence. Instead, they still tend to run on autopilot and thus prefer greed, ease, convenience, comfort, to feel good (and that it not depend on doing good or being good or productive). And so when less reasonable people argue, their arguments are not about truth or facts or what is right and good and decent and noble, but about ego, being in control, and tend to be based on distortions, half-truths, spin, fallacious reasoning, all-or-nothing and black and white thinking, overgeneralizations, and not being able/willing to truly slow down to look honestly and clearly at themselves at what they’re actually saying.
Thus unloving individuals will not budge easily from wanting to be right, in control, understood before understanding, and so they will not compromise. They’d rather be right than happy, they’d rather be right than growing and becoming more aware. And if they do fight, they tend not to make up reasonably either—to apologize, say I’m truly sorry, to make their amends or contrition, to learn and grow from what they did or said.
And this is in part because when relationships are about ego-projects, then the other is not seen as or treated as a real person, but instead is seen and regarded as an extension of oneself, and thus as less than oneself, and at that as something essentially interchangeable or disposable; the other is not a unique and essential and real person, but a McPerson, interchangeable with many of the other McPeople that one sees and runs across during the course of the day. And thus resentment and ungratefulness and bickering and irritability and other forms of pettiness ensue much more easily between unreasonable people, and arguments and discussions are ultimately about who gets to be right and in control—whose warped and distorted and dishonest version of reality gets to prevail. Discussions and disagreements and arguments are not about what’s right, true, good, reasonable, good, just, fair, kind, decent, Loving, principled, healthy, virtuous, et cetera.
Life is short. Why not be a loving, decent, reasonable person and lead an examined life? What’s in it for you to not do so? What’s the payoff?