The Unreasonable Man

The concept of the reasonable man runs through English law. He is the ordinary, average guy within the system.

The concept of the reasonable man grounds us. It focuses our thinking. Provides us a standard. He is not a real person, he is an idea. Of how we should behave, the standards we should follow, the care we should take. The hypothetical person beyond the case law and the statutes and the judgements. A good citizen.

The reasonable man has many roles.

He stands by our side when we enter into a contract. He listens in to our conversation, and if we forget to agree a term, if he thinks it’s so obvious that we really meant to include it, then the term is implied all the same.

He sits next to us on the bus. In negligence cases, the reasonable man is considered to be of reasonable education and intelligence, but a nondescript man, just sitting at the back of the bus, representing your everyday sort of chap on his way to work.

Within the law, we ask ourself what the reasonable man would do, think, understand. We even have the concept of a reasonable employer too.

The reasonable man is average. The reasonable man thinks what most people think. The reasonable man stands for consensus. He is realistic, sensible, practical. Doing the done thing, the expected, accepted thing.

In organisations, we are often reasonable. Terribly so. We follow the rules, both written and unwritten. We quickly learn the standards, and how to behave, fit in. What is reasonable, at our place.

We like reasonable people. Reasonable people are safe. You know what you are going to get. If you were described as reasonable, you would probably be just fine with that.

Unreasonable on the other hand, is different. Not quite so appealing. Most people would not wish to be called unreasonable.

Exceeding reasonable limits.
Refusing to listen to reason.
Not in accordance with practical realities.
Inappropriate attitudes or behaviours.

All of these are dictionary definitions of unreasonable.

In organisations, we have our own version of this reasonable man on the Clapham Omnibus. He sits beside us every day, invisible but powerful. From him we learn the way that we do thing around here. Silently he conducts the orchestra of reasonableness.

I recently came across this quote from George Bernard Shaw. ‘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.’

Look again at those definitions of unreasonable, and ask just one simple question.

Who decides?

Exceeding someone’s idea of reasonable limits.
Refusing to listen to someone’s idea of reason.
Ignoring someone’s idea of practicality, the way to behave.

It is unreasonable, or is it nonconformist?
Unreasonable, or simply refusing to stick to the party line?
Unreasonable, or entrepreneur, leader, change agent?
Unreasonable, or progressive?

One person’s unreasonableness is another’s visionary.

Sometimes, reasonable is good.

But not always.

Reasonable can be safe.
Reasonable can be limiting.
Reasonable can be cautious.
Reasonable can be accepting what we have always done.
Reasonable can be the same as everyone else.

The reasonable man can sometimes be a pain in the arse.

Today, I’m feeling unreasonable. Are you?

2 thoughts on “The Unreasonable Man

  1. The ‘reasonable’ man likes to use reasonable language. He will say that an act or omission is ‘inappropriate’ which means nothing more in substance than an act or omission the reasonable man happens to find personally distasteful.

    The reasonable man’s idea of the mutuality of benefit and burden underpinning the terms: ‘co-operate’, and ‘uncooperative’ is nothing more than a description the reasonable man attaches to anyone who either will or will not yield to arbitrary authority. The reasonable man knows that no-one need to ‘do as they are told’ any more. They merely ‘fail to co-operate’.

    The reasonable man will describe as ‘defensive’ anyone he or she encounters capable of defending a legitimately held position from unwarranted attack and as ‘aggressive’ anyone capable of challenging the validity of contention devoid of authority.

    The reasonable man is a hypothetical construct used by the strong to impose their will upon the weak who accept the concept of the ‘reasonable man’ without question.

    The reasonable man comes in many disguises and he is not always reasonable!

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