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Thursday, May 19, 2011

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Is Now a Time to be Reasonable?

To go against the dominant thinking of your friends,
of most of the people you see every day,
is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform.
- Theodore H. White

Mostly, life works out best when you are reasonable - that is, when you approach life with sound judgement (as defined by average people in your community).

But is it always best to be reasonable? Heroes are not reasonable. Sound judgement does not lead people to risk their own lives to help others. Poets and philosophers are not reasonable. Social activists are not reasonable. Gandhi, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa were not reasonable. Explorers and inventors are not reasonable. Amelia Earhart, Robert Peary, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein were not reasonable.

The problem with "reasonable" is that, by definition, it depends upon the average values found in your community, and not on your own values.

Is today a day to do something unreasonable? At most times and in most matters, community standards are the best guideline for what to do and what not to do. This is true both because your community's standard of reasonableness has successfully evolved and survived, and also because your community will punish you if you deviate from its norms. That punishment may be severe if the standard is codified in law, or it may be more subtle, such as people avoiding you, but there is always punishment for being different.

The time to move beyond being reasonable is when you have something very important at stake. When your commitment to your purpose, your values, your cause, or your ideas becomes a roaring bonfire within you, stop being reasonable, and do whatever it takes to advance your project.

An issue doesn't have to be world-changing in order to be worthy of confronting "reasonable" community values. As an example, today it is "reasonable" for parents to maximize their income in order to "best" provide for their children. But what if your values dictate that your children would be better off with less money but more of your time? Go ahead and make the "unreasonable" decision to become a stay-at-home parent, or cut back to half-time work if you are a single parent, or find work you can do from home. If an issue is important, do what you feel is right, rather than what is reasonable.

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