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by Stephanie Saline
In a recent moment of exasperation, my spouse — let’s call him the Philosopher — asked me for something. Side bar: my partner in life really is a philosopher. He teaches at a small liberal arts college in Upstate New York. Anyway, he asked if we could play what the philosopher Wilifrid Sellars calls “the game of giving and asking for reasons.”
At first, I scoffed. It sounded like a game for nerds. But a few days later, and to my surprise, I began to give my reasons.
The game goes something like this:
Player One says something.
Player Two says, “Why’s that?”
Player One gives a reason to back up their desire, argument, or position.
And so on, with each player taking turns until the round is over.
Pro tip: when you live with a professional philosopher, the round is never over. The game is always in play.
As a game, and if you don’t take it too seriously, it’s kind of fun. But after playing it for a few weeks, I’ve come to realize a few things.
My reasons often don’t make sense and aren’t rational. And in a world that holds generally-accepted and commonly-practiced rules like “You Must Make Sense At All Times and Being Reasonable Is Good,” I’m okay with that.
For example, one of the ways I know what to do is by sitting quietly, and allowing myself to become still and listen. In these spaces, Life tells me what’s up and what’s mine to do. I’ve trained myself to notice those instructions, sometimes even writing them down, and then I do my best to follow through.
For example, last week I got the memo: Hop on a plane and go support your business partner. One of my partners, who happens to be the founder of this magazine, was scheduled to give a talk at Cultivate Coffee And Tap House in Ypsilanti.
Her talk was about how entrepreneurs see things that haven’t yet come into being, and need to be around other people who can see their visions and dreams. So, given the topic, my reason was: how could I not show up?
Back in the Land of Reasons, the trip made no sense. I’d need to get a plane ticket, get up at the crack of dawn, rearrange my schedule, and all told be in Ypsi for less than 24 hours.
But I had this “knowing.” And I’ve learned that my knowing is immune to reasons. Reasons are things I make up after the fact, to justify what I want to do. Knowings are bread crumbs or clues, guiding me from one place to the next. Follow them, I’ve learned, and trust the world’s greatest scavenger hunt.
I’m not saying that one must be unreasonable at all times. That would be madness.
But on a personal level, I find that a sprinkle of unreasonableness every now and again to be rather enlivening. Like a seltzer. Or running through a sprinkler.
Some of the best things in my life have sprung from a lack of reasonableness, and an unfounded trust in my own knowing. My choice, at twenty, to move to Asia. My courtship and marriage to the Philosopher. My decision to work for myself.
Side bar: I’m on a plane right now, flying from Detroit back home to Buffalo. I just peeked through the seats of the row in front of me, to catch the headline of an article in an in-flight magazine: “Reasons To Smile.”
Do we really need a reason to smile?
How about we let our brains go limp for a moment, and allow the muscle of our joy to lift the corners of our lips?
I guess what I’m saying is that somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that it’s not okay to do things simply because I want to. Or because it feels good. Or because I have an imaginary friend I call Life who sends me instructions, one page at a time. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that I needed to have reasons and be “reasonable.”
Now, as your faithful correspondent, I report back to you from the front lines: When approached as a game, giving and asking for reasons is marvelous fun.
As a lever for relationship, it is a mighty fulcrum. You get to witness the inner gears of your beloved turning. You get to generate and trade reasons, like baseball cards. You get to taste all the different reasons there are for things, like eating half of a box of chocolates where each piece has a different filling. And so on.
But at the end of the day, may we allow ourselves to be incorrigibly and unapologetically unreasonable.
A teacher and advertising writer based in Buffalo, New York, Stephanie Saline – aka Stella Orange – spent one decade on adventures in Japan, Seattle, and Montana, and another decade building a popular copywriting business. She now leads writing workshops. “Every person I know is a hero on a journey — and writing about it helps us see it.” Find out more about her work at www.stellaorange.com.