Monday over Coffee: Reasonable

Need a Word of Encouragement?


Reasonable

Because we’ve had such a tremendous swing in temperatures here in Houston over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself adjusting and readjusting the thermostat in our house more than usual in pursuit of hitting and keeping our home’s interior ‘weather’ in just the right spot. Not too hot. Not too cold. As a kid at Astros and Oilers games, I recall that the Astrodome was advertised as being held at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, I guess I’ve always thought this was the ideal. But like Goldilocks and her porridge, we probably all have our preferences.

I recently read a short book called 101 Things I Learned in Law School. It’s part of a series published by Three Rivers Press which provides a compelling glimpse into more than a half dozen post-graduate fields. There’s one entitled 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School;another called 101 Things I Learned in Film School, as well as offerings for those interested in extending their education in the realms of Engineering, Advertising, Fashion, the Culinary Arts, and a few others. 

With respect to the offering concerning law school, having attended one some time ago, I was familiar with a good number of the 101 lessons put forth. However, some of the tips transcend the sphere of the law itself, simply providing some sound advice for life. The lesson that most resonated with me was the notion of better calibrating a balance between reason and emotion in one’s arguments. “Rationality is cool,” the authors wrote, and “passion is warm.” A good argument, they noted, moderates between the two, just “slightly above room temperature.” 

The book offers similar counsel to its readers who might be looking to fine-tune their temperament. The authors submit that one of the lessons urged upon law students is to aim and aspire to be “the most reasonable person in the room.” It suggests that judges and juries track more often not with the most clever or dramatic courtroom speaker, but with the lawyer who cultivates a reputation for trustworthiness. This is the one who’s always well-prepared, respectful, steady, thorough, and credible—giving ground where necessary—while remaining principled, earnest, and zealous in advocacy for his or her client within the parameters of the law.

The final lesson that stood out for me was one with which I was familiar but hadn’t considered for a while—something known as the legal fiction of the ‘reasonable person.’ In a civil lawsuit, a jury is typically asked to compare the behavior of the actual parties to that of an imaginary reasonable person in the same situation. In Texas, the concept of this reasonable person is defined essentially as one who uses ordinary care, “that degree of care that would be used by a person of ordinary prudence under the same or similar circumstances.” This “reasonable person” measuring stick provides an objective standard for judgments to then be made fairly on the matter at hand.

When I put the book down, it struck me as interesting (and perhaps more revealing than I’d prefer) that the three lessons of the available 101 best capturing my thoughts and conscience at this particular moment in time, all touched upon the idea of simply being reasonable. It might seem like a low bar and an unambitious goal, but maybe in the extraordinary circumstances at hand right now, just being reasonable is reasonable—and precisely what we should take aim at with respect to how we operate, how we interact with each other, and how we go forward together. 

As conditions on the ground continue to evolve and hopefully move us safely toward a semblance of normal life, I want to be able to look back and say at least I acted with ordinary prudence through it all—the crisis of the pandemic, the vicissitudes of our political environment, the Great Lone Star Freeze of 2021, and in regard to whatever might be just ahead. Maybe that’s a worthy ambition for all of us. When our families, those we work with, and those we've encountered look back at this time, they’ll simply remember us as the most reasonable ones in the room. Hopefully, they’ll recall that in both the words we used and in the attitudes we exhibited, we were calibrated just about right in terms of reason and passion. Not too cold and not too hot. Just slightly above room temperature.

God— 
 
Help me to be…reasonable. 
 
Amen.

–Greg Funderburk

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