On Being Reasonable

Are You Reasonable?

The following I have found to be true about human nature.

Observation 1: Reasonable people continue to do what works for them.

Observation 2: Reasonable people stop doing what fails to work for them.

How do people know when something works, or fails? By applying one or more of the five senses-- sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, and then evaluating the outcome. If one of more of the senses is satisfied with the outcome, continue with the activity. If not, stop.

But there’s an activity we are all asked to perform that contradicts the above observations: Our call to apostolic action. If living our call to apostolic action brings us grief, any reasonable person would stop the action. But instead, we must continue. On the surface, expecting people to behave in such a manner makes no sense. It goes against the grain of human nature, and in fact explains why apostolic action in the world today is in such short supply.

Our world needs us to be apostolic. But most of all, our Lord wants us to be apostolic. But what happens when we apply the realities of the world we live in to this apostolic call to action we have all received? If you attempt to lead an apostolic life in the real world, what do your senses feel? Try starting with suffering, rejection, and ridicule, then work your way down the list from there.

Suppose you are a public school teacher and you wear a cross around your neck as an apostolic act. What might your senses feel? Immediately your sense of sight might tell you many of your coworkers are not happy at your public display of devotion to Christ. You hear disparaging comments from some co-workers, parents, the news media, etc., not only about you, but also about your God. Not a good scene. According to the Observations above, what should you do?

Applying Observation 1, a reasonable person would quickly decide their present course of action was not a success, and Observation 2 dictates that the teacher in this example should stop wearing the cross at school. End the pain, in other words, and remove the cross.

But a funny thing happens. The schoolteacher obeys their apostolic duty call, and chooses to continue wearing their cross in the classroom. To this schoolteacher their apostolic call is louder than the catcalls from coworkers and media pressure. However, all things being equal this is an unreasonable act, as it appears the schoolteacher continues to do what fails for them, not what succeeds. Their job may be in jeopardy. Friendships may be strained. Opinion within the family on this issue may be divided. Tensions rise. Why would anyone do this, or anything in daily life akin to this? Why would anyone go against the grain of human nature and invite pain into their lives? It would appear this action is not in their best interest.

The key to persistence in working for Christ all our lives is in anticipating that from time to time we must choose to do what the world declares unreasonable, but our Christian faith calls “duty.” Our US Constitution even weighs in on the notion “reasonable” behavior it is possible to define, declaring for example that search and seizure is permitted--- just not “unreasonable” search and seizure.

But knowing that we are called to apostolic action--- sometimes deemed unreasonable action, is not the same thing as knowing why to do it. As well as anyone, the following quote, ironically from noted atheist George Bernard Shaw, explains why society treasures the unreasonable man. He wrote:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to him. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

You must act unreasonable from time to time, as defined by the secular world, in order to fulfill your apostolic call to duty. Why? Because if the world is to become more Christian, it will be through the deliberate actions of self proclaimed unreasonable Christians who make it so.

What are you? In terms of apostolic actions, are you the reasonable man some of the time? Most of the time? Or are you the unreasonable man--- all the time?