Vail Daily column: Rational discourse in an irrational world
For all of the disparate languages spoken globally, there are only two that really matter: the voices of reason and the rantings of the irrational. We are all fluent in both languages, sometimes utilizing each in the same sentence, like a Spanglish linguistic mashup. However, the roots of these dichotomous dialects are vastly different. To paraphrase Tolstoy, all rational discussions are alike; each insane rambling is insane in its own way. Reason derives from a fact-based, observable world. We can collectively reference the tenets of rationality because humanity has determined its fixed points on the logical compass. Irrationality is personal and emotional. The idiosyncrasies of our individual psychologies give each of our unreasonable moments their own unique flair. In a legal system allegedly predicated on rationality, it can be immensely challenging to reconcile the disputants’ particular brands of lunacy.
If both parties are discussing their issues openly and rationally, then the conflict does not typically last long. I am always impressed when people have the maturity to take that first step and sit down to calmly talk through the issues. People are not robots, there is some emotion that seeps around the edges. The most effective discourse is one that accounts for feelings, but is not dictated by them. That should not be as rare as I have found it to be … sometimes even in my own life. (I wish that I were better at following my own advice.)
A Game Nobody Wins
When both sides are off their respective rockers, it is hard to determine whether the dispute will be resolved quickly or at all. But my sympathies are not implicated, as two adults that act like children probably deserve each other. It is only when their immaturity and irrationality brings others into their terrible vortex that I get frustrated or saddened. Parties to a divorce are the most common culprits, sometimes using their offspring as pawns in a game that nobody will win.
The most troubling scenario is when one side to a conflict approaches it in a rational fashion and the other side is fueled by any of a number of emotions: rage, revenge, jealousy — you name it. To this latter group, facts are simply inconveniences to be ignored. By any objective measure, their viewpoint is contradicted by reality. Mystifyingly, that does nothing to dissuade their crusade against sense. In fact, when presented with a cogent argument, our antagonist more often than not doubles or triples down on their position. Like a cornered animal, they are dangerous. It is impossible to predict how they will react, so planning or strategizing becomes significantly more difficult.
Sometimes I am convinced that these types are simply acting nuts in order to gain a perceived advantage. I have heard statements so outlandish that they must be said for effect; no person could actually believe those words. Dispiritingly, faux insanity can be a successful tactic. It is so difficult to interface with a maniac that people may take a bad deal simply to be rid of the hassle. Worse still, the rational actor may be driven to make irrational and ill-advised decisions.
Regardless of whether the opponent is truly irrational or is just pretending, it is the communication breakdown that can drive an otherwise sane person to distraction. To logically elucidate one’s viewpoint and then be met with screaming or crying or, even worse, an unsupported rejection of irrefutable facts is all the more challenging because it is so hard to understand. It is normal to feel trapped and for that feeling to morph into a high level of frustration. The immediate problem is to figure out how to respond to someone who just will not listen to reason. Does one ignore or re-implore? It is the quandary faced by parents of young children the world over.
Calling your opponent’s bluff
My experience has shown that trying to break through the wall of irrationality is usually a losing proposition. The choice then becomes whether to have a judge or jury impose a resolution or else to be secure in your sense and move on to other, more productive endeavors. Cynic that I am, I am not convinced that litigated resolutions reflect either reason or the facts. However, pushing forward with a lawsuit may call the bluff of your sandbagging opponent. He will now be forced to expend money and energy protecting a position that he cannot possibly believe in, all to prove a point.
On the other hand, if the defendant in your lawsuit is indeed incapable of rational thought, then you have locked yourself in the asylum for the next few years. Nurse Ratched may be tending to you before long.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and owner and mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.