Monday, November 3, 2014

The Reasonable Man

The rabbi spoke of the reasonable person argument, suggesting that the Palestinian Militants are not reasonable people and therefore peace between the Jews and the Arabs is not possible. Palestinian militants want martyrs and Jews value life. Valuing death as a martyr is not reasonable.

Terri offered the homeless man a half of a sandwich and some veggies. He said that he wanted the whole sandwich. She said no. He walked away, but then came back and asked for the half. He didn’t want the veggies. You and I are reasonable people and say that we’d do things differently. If we were hungry, we’d take what is given. As reasonable people, we would choose the most nutritious items, like the veggies. And then we might save the veggies for our dinner and eat the sandwich now, because it won’t keep without refrigeration. If we were very clever, we’d sell the sandwich and buy some bananas, which is a very good food for the money. And… if we had ideas like that, we'd really be reasonable, and we wouldn’t be homeless.

You might disagree. But navigating life is like playing chess. You make a plan of attack. You consider possible moves that your opponent might make. You think ahead.

I knew a man who was a potter in Mexico. He had 13 kids and a wife. They all slept in one room on sheets of worn cardboard. Every week he’d make beautiful pottery and sell it to a wholesaler on Friday. Then he and his wife would drink all weekend. And they bought expensive whiskey. By Monday they were broke and would start the cycle again. What would a reasonable person have done?

I remember shopping at a grocery that bordered on Ferguson, Missouri which has been on the news. People with food stamps are not reasonable shoppers. They buy food loaded with sugar, fat, and salt. They starve their brains of nutrition. I had a student from Ferguson who had never eaten a raw carrot. “If it isn’t processed and cooked to death, it isn’t food,” she said.

We used to talk about teachable moments. Should there be a required course for people to take before they are given food stamps?

Or should we just give people money and hope they come to their senses sooner rather than later. As William Blake said, “If a fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.”

Actually I think that it is not reasonable to think that there is one reasonable way of looking at things or living life. I suspect that Hamas and the food stamp shopper think they are reasonable. I suspect too that the first step toward peace is to acknowledge that each of them is reasonable.

I know, in my job as dean, some people would have said that I was not reasonable. And I thought they weren’t reasonable. That seems to be more the nature of conflict than a correct perception. I’d go so far to say that I suspect we (the human species) are all reasonable. We just hear the “beat of a different drummer.” (Thoreau)

P.S. My neighbor told me this morning that he sometimes is not reasonable. I asked him if he realized that in hindsight, or at the time of the action. I don’t remember if he answered.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are you trying to say its a matter of perspective? H.