I was an unreasonable child until the age of 4. That was when my dad grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me, shouting, “What’s wrong with you?” Now, being 4 years old, I missed the point of what he was asking me. In that moment of his heightened emotion I made a mistake.
I missed the fact that my mother’s mother (my grandmother) had just passed away and that my own mother was crumpled up against her cupboard, wailing. I missed the fact that I had been jumping on my parents’ bed and shouting and singing when my parents had received the bad news. That’s enough to drive any parent crazy.
In that moment, my misunderstanding led me towards being a reasonable child. I told myself that I needed to be “a good boy”. From that moment, there were a few times at school where I was punished again for slipping into unreasonable behaviour. (Doing cartwheels with a friend at the front of the class while the teacher’s not looking is one of the fastest ways to be punished into reasonability!)
I quickly learned how to adapt to the world around me. I learned how to get along with people and give them what they wanted. People rewarded me with smiles. Adults and friends rewarded me with space and consideration. I formed ideas about what was acceptable and unacceptable. I stopped breaking the rules. In fact, I felt anxious whenever I didn’t know what the rules were, fearing that I would break them.
Does any of this resonate with you? Most of us have had experiences very similar to mine. It was years later, at the age of 23, when I was in a dead end job, hating my life, that I realised where my reasonability had taken me. At the age of 23, I decided to be unreasonable again. That decision changed my life. Through clearing up my intent to be unreasonably happy, I started working with children. I’ve never looked back.
“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
Do you have an unreasonable child? Are there times where they’re so unreasonable that you’re ready to pull out your hair…or pull out their hair? Or do you have the opposite problem – a reasonable, compliant child?
So what are the differences between being reasonable and unreasonable? Which one do we promote? Which one do we shun? In this article we’ll explore both sides and allow you to make up your mind. Especially when it comes to your children.
Before we get started, let’s look at the definitions for both of these terms. That way, we cut out any misunderstandings.
Reasonable means, “being fair and sensible. Having sound judgement.” When you’re reasonable, you’re able to adapt to the world around you. You don’t fight the world, you flow right along with it. Reasonable people tend to be happier. However, that’s an idea we’re going to explore in this article, because there are limitations to being reasonable.
Unreasonable means, “to be uncooperative. To be contrary. To be disobliging.” Just looking at this definition is bound to stir strong emotions. Have you ever met someone who blocked you and disagreed with you at every turn? Have you ever been that person?
Either of these examples is a real test to society. On the one hand, you have the people who go along with the world. On the other hand you have the people who dig in their heels and cause everything to stop.
But which one do we strive to create in our children? The short answer is both. We strive for both. However, it’s too simple to just leave it at that. Why the heck would I want to raise an unreasonable child? Why would I want a child that fights everything and everyone? How is that an indication of future success? I’m not saying it is. But, I am saying that we need to go deeper into this idea. It’s far more complex than we think it is.
When you’re reasonable you can adapt, play on a team and complete the challenge set before you. This is a great skill to have. No one can do anything on their own.
George Matthew Adams once said, “There’s no such thing as a ‘self-made’ man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.”
I agree with this. No one lives in isolation. You need to get along with people to learn and survive.
Being adaptable has its limitations too. When being reasonable turns into compliance and dependence on an authority to govern it, then we’re in trouble. This can happen faster than you may think and it’s all based on interpretation. When your child begins to fear breaking the rules and making mistakes, that’s when the limitations of the reasonable child kick into play. This can be devastating for their abilities to create and become independent.
When children are unreasonable from a very early age, they learn to have people turned against them. They learn what it’s like to be unpopular, ignored and spoken ill off. People shout at the unreasonable child, hitting and scolding them so often that they learn to overcome the things that reasonable children fear: neglect, being shunned and disappointing others.
You see, unreasonable children learn quickly that people’s moods have a limited period. They learn that when the dust settles after the shenanigans they’ve started, they’ll be able to apologise and start afresh.
Unreasonable children are not afraid to put themselves out there and make mistakes. They’re willing to jump into the middle of something that intrigues them, even if they’ve been warned not to. Why? Because they’re curious and this curiosity is the real key to their future success. Unreasonable children are curious about the things that reasonable children accept as truth.
This is how unreasonable children challenge the fundamental beliefs and paradigms of their families and the world around them.
This is how unreasonable children find solutions that no one else can see.
Being unreasonable means that you’re not afraid of people being angry or irritated with you. You’re not afraid to go against the grain. When unreasonable children begin to contradict an idea just for the sake of being on the other side of the argument, they can slow down the process of creation.
Worst yet, when unreasonable children get in the way of others trying to do something, they can stop a group’s momentum. This can be disastrous to all growth. Unreasonable children don’t always consider others when they act. This often leaves them in a position of isolation and damages their ability to network and grow connections.
In a nutshell, the disadvantage of being unreasonable is that you are going to upset a lot of people. These people you upset may make a habit of avoiding you.
If unreasonable children create the ideas that revolutionise the future, then reasonable children are the ones that implement it. No brilliant ideas ever come to fruition by just staying as ideas. No act of genius ever changed the world by being performed in isolation. In order to create lasting change, we need to have people implementing it, doing it every day until that action becomes contagious.
This is the meeting point of reasonable and unreasonable children. Now how do we get there? Through communication. Regardless of whether your children tend more towards being reasonable or unreasonable, communication is the pivotal skill that bridges the gap. Communication heals the space between them, allowing reasonable and unreasonable to live in relative harmony.
Unreasonable children need to learn how to listen first and ask a lot of questions. Reasonable children need to learn how to ask questions and be curious without just accepting what they’re being told. (I’ve written an article on communication and conversation that you can access by clicking here.)
Here are some questions you can ask a reasonable child to help grow their awareness:
Some of these questions are hard to answer and even harder to hear, especially for a reasonable child. I grew up on the fringes of being reasonable because I did things that were deemed unreasonable. Just looking at these questions brings up a lot of anxiety around my perspective on disappointing people. I love it! That’s the whole point of asking people questions. You want to bring their awareness to something that is there, beneath their surface. Don’t be worried if these questions make your children uncomfortable. In fact, you should celebrate this discomfort!
Remember, a mentor’s job is not to make people feel comfortable. A mentor’s role is to help people reach their potential, by seeing what they can’t see and knowing what they don’t know.
The questions for unreasonable children are different. In fact, you’ll probably have to tie them down to ask them these questions! Unreasonable children aren’t great listeners. That’s why you’ll need to start by asking a set of questions that help you to get into their world.
As always, remember the disclaimer: questions are never flawless. Some work, others don’t. These questions are here to give you some sort of process that you can explore and hone. You are your children’s greatest mentor. You know them better than anyone else. You’re invested in them. Your questions will improve over time. Remember: “He or She that asks the questions, is in control of the direction of the conversation.”
We need reasonable children just as we need unreasonable children. Together, they are the battering ram and the people holding the ram, breaking down the doors of ignorance and stagnancy. Together they are the key to unlocking sustainability, fair exchange, tolerance, respect and an innovative future that explodes beyond the limitations of what our parents and their parents thought possible.
Until next time…