Splitsider

Monday, November 12th, 2012

A Reasonable Man, by Christopher Mah

Everyone knows that our country is more divided than ever, even more divided than the era when colored people were not treated with the perfect equality they are afforded today. Some say the media is to blame, others point to economic disparity, and most everyone would agree that immigrants certainly aren’t helping. Whatever the case, we could heal our divisions and come together to solve our nation’s crises if only everyone would be more like me.

You see, I am a reasonable man. I am always willing to engage in thoughtful, respectful conversation with anyone who disagrees with me. But unfortunately, everyone I meet who disagrees with me is an ignorant, dickish, imbecile. It is not easy being a reasonable person surrounded by idiots. Disagreeing respectfully is a skill that requires lots of practice, which is why I take every opportunity to disagree with the people I talk to, no matter how trivial the topic, and continue disagreeing with them until I have won the conversation.

Whenever I start a debate with someone, I always speak to them in a kind voice, so kind, in fact, that it is like I’m talking to a child. But when it is their turn to talk, they always use a much louder voice, so that I have to stick my fingers in my ears and shout “I can’t hear you, la la la!” over and over again until I am asked to stop causing a scene and escorted out of the museum.

I know how to discuss things rationally, because I purchased a whole stack of books about effective communication and then read most of their back covers. These books have taught me many useful skills which I use when having a dialogue with unreasonable people, the first of which is to use the word “dialogue” instead of “argument.”

Another skill I learned is to listen to the other person’s opinion, and then rephrase it in a mocking voice so that they know you understood them. I used this skill last week when I wanted ice cream but my wife said she wasn’t in the mood for dessert, and I said, “So what I’m hearing is that you’re feeling fat today.” This showed her that I understood her point of view, and now that we have an understanding, she hasn’t even needed to talk to me in days.

Another skill which I learned from skimming these books is that one should begin conversations with facts, not opinions, and certainly not questions. For example, instead of starting an argument (sorry, a dialogue) by saying, “I think you are wrong,” I say, “It is a fact that I am right.” My neighbor could really benefit from using this skill. Just this morning, as I was minding my own business and whistling in my car, he came furiously running out of his house towards me, screaming nonsensically about how I couldn’t just park my truck on his front lawn. This, of course, was only his opinion, and the plain fact was that my car is technically an SUV, not a truck. After backing my SUV off of his vegetable garden and over his daughter’s bicycle, I handed him one of my conflict resolution books called The Berenstain Bears and the Bully and suggested he read it before driving away, whistling happily to myself.

Something my neighbor doesn’t yet understand is that effective civil discourse is really about putting yourself in someone’s else’s shoes, or better yet, his underwear, which is even more personal than shoes and therefore makes for a better metaphor. Every time I find myself disagreeing with people, I put myself in their underwear, and sometimes I ask them to put on mine, and other times they call the police. When I meet someone with whom I don’t see eye to eye, I try to imagine the world from her perspective, way, way, down in her dark cave of ignorance. Other times, when I am talking to someone with stupid beliefs and lose my temper, I take a deep breath, remind myself that I am smarter than him, and reluctantly let go of his throat.

See? The fact that I alternated between the female and male pronouns in that paragraph is just more evidence that I am a fair and reasonable man and not a hysterical, irrational woman. Like any rational, non-female person, I am able to see both sides of an argument, and then articulate why the other side is stupid without resorting to insults or exaggeration. I hate exaggerations. The single worst thing in the world is when I hear someone exaggerate.

If only everyone were more like me, the world would be a much happier place, for me. People will always have disagreements, of course, but what makes our country great is the freedom to use social media to ridicule others for their beliefs. That, and funnel cake. We should not fear our differences; rather, we should repress them and ignore them until some crisis arises and we simply cannot ignore them any longer. Then, and only then, should we be afraid.

Though there will always be lines that divide us, it serves us well to recognize the wisdom of both sides, for it is a fine line between wisdom and profound stupidity. You and I may stand on opposite sides of a precarious bridge of trust over a deadly gorge, but as the reasonable person, I invite you to come towards the center, and then keep walking until you are completely on my side. There is no reason for us to meet in the middle. Afterall, I am a reasonable man, one who is terrified of heights, and on my side of the bridge there is funnel cake.

Christopher Mah lives, works, and writes in Seattle, and only goes by "Christopher" when trying to convey professionalism. His writing has been published on McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Bygone Bureau, and Yankee Pot Roast, and has been rejected by numerous other publications. His ebook, "Nobody Needs to Get Hurt: & Other Essays," is available on Kindle and all proceeds in 2012 will benefit the Seattle Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Humor Section features a piece of original humor writing each week. To submit to it, send an email to Becca O'Neal.