I read a blog a while ago that made the claim that “nobody is unreasonable” – a thought that has stuck with me since. I’ve spent months trying to make my peace with the idea. It’s a wild claim because, at least in my world, people around me are constantly doing things that don’t make any sense... to me. And I don’t think it’s a narrative that’s unfamiliar to most.
A driver cuts me off in traffic to exit the highway. My responses usually fall into one of three categories:
1) “How dare they!” 2) “Don’t they know how dangerous that is?!” Or 3) “What poor planning – didn’t they know their exit was coming up? Somebody needs to pay more attention.” I can be seen shaking my head in disapproval during all three.
A waitress at a restaurant takes what is most likely a completely normal amount of time bringing me my water, except on this particular day I am what can only be described as dramatically almost dying of thirst because doesn’t she know that I just came straight from the gym? I tell myself that I would have seen a poor, clearly dehydrated soul and moved a little faster because that’s what good customer service is. Minor dehydration is not an invisible condition, people!
My husband – my wonderful, caring, handsome husband – forgets to take out the trash and now I have to do it. Doesn’t he know it’s the (unspoken) rule that he takes it out when it’s full and starting to smell? How can you see it and not take it out?
These things are unreasonable. They don’t make any sense. Except they do. The only reason these things don’t make sense is because they aren’t what I needed and thus aren't what I would have done in the moment. It has occurred to me that I spend an inordinate amount of time judging other people for not being exactly like me and doing things the way I (think I) would, particularly when I am inconvenienced.
And then I take a little time and flip the perspective. I’m trying to find my way through an unfamiliar part of town and realize the current lane ends, so I have to slip into the next lane. I wave politely into the rearview, which makes it okay! My sweet husband asks if I can pour him a glass of water as he walks in the door, and I choose to do 3 other things first before I hand it to him. It never occurs to me how thirsty he may be, because slightly dehydrated people and those who have remembered to drink enough water throughout the day literally look exactly the same. It’s completely acceptable that I forget to take out the trash because I was in a rush this morning to make it to a business meeting. When I’m the perpetrator, none of these things are unreasonable, because I’m a reasonable person!
All this to say – how much more brain space would we have to dedicate to productive, meaningful thinking if we gave the benefit of the doubt to the people around us – even when what they’re doing doesn’t make sense? How often are we so focused on how we are inconvenienced that we forget to extend a little grace to others? Is it possible that what we consider to be completely unreasonable is actually totally reasonable to the people making the choices?
Intentional leadership is a hard path to walk. It involves getting out of our own way to realize that people are rarely unreasonable. People typically make reasonable decisions – doing the best they can do with what they have in that moment. Sometimes those decisions just aren’t what we would do – and in order for this beautiful world to work the way it was intended to, that has to be okay with us.