Meet the Sages (and Get A Free Poster!)

In recent years there’s been a surge of interest in ancient philosophers. Three of my favorite books in this vein are Expect the Unexpected Or You Won’t Find it: A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus by Roger Van Oech, Breakfast With Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day by Robert Rowland Smith, and The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I’m going to add to this growing body of literature by introducing the ancient writers of Hebrew wisdom literature. These sages said many interesting and often astonishing things, especially given how long ago they wrote. For example, two millennia before Freud and modern psychotherapy the sages wrote, “Many are the purposes of a person’s heart; one with wisdom draws them out.” There are things that go on in a person’s psyche about which we are simply unaware. In 2011 Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote about this in Thinking Fast and Slow (read my summary here). Over one hundred years before that (1902 to be precise) William James said this about consciousness and perception, Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different, ” (Varieties of Religious Experience). These are all fancy ways of explaining what we mean when we say…
  • “Perception is reality”
  • “Appearances can be deceiving”
  • “My brain has a mind of it’s own”
  • “There are two sides to every story”
  • “Life is not always as it appears to be”
Woe to the person who doesn’t know that their consciousness can be altered an a variety of ways or that our minds can play weird tricks on us. Even neuro-scientists remind us that feelings of being right are not necessarily right. Click here to read an interview with Robert Burton, author of the fascinating book, On Being Certain. Which brings me to a free gift I have for you. The sages were preternaturally aware that things like emotions, health, hunger, sleep, and other factors trick us. I’ve collected (and drew faces for) thirty of their sage warnings that remind us that we can’t always trust our thoughts. You can download a free 8.5″ x 11″ color printout of this poster by clicking here. (Signed 13″x 19″ color posters are available for $30 (+$4.99 shipping in USA) on Amazon; small size posters are free to readers of this blog). The brilliance of these sage warnings is that being skeptical of our cherished beliefs will lead to open mindedness, mental flexibility, and a willingness to contemplate alternative ideas. This is often our focus when doing mediation or therapy–when emotions or other mood altering factors hi-jack our brains we don’t think rationally or clearly. I hope this handout (poster) will inspire careful self-reflection.

Relating to the Unreasonable (6 of 7)

relating to the unreasonable

Here are further suggestions on relating to the unreasonable.

  1. Stop immediately from trying to get them to be reasonable. You can’t control them so control yourself by avoiding the drama.
  2. Expect button pushing from the unreasonable. If you keep hoping they change you’ll wait a long time. It’s up to you to take preventative actions.
  3. Which of the following get your goat ? Insults, criticism, their anger, being lied to, being blamed, false accusations, silence, taunting, mimicking, passive-aggressiveness, snarkiness, nagging, implying you’re inadequate, expectations, others playing the martyr, guilt mongers, pouting? Don’t let them know where your goat is tied up!
  4. Explore why these hot buttons are so hot. Things that bug us are usually vulnerabilities from our past so now is a good time to address them. Unreasonable people help us become better people!
  5. Separate reasonable people from unreasonable people. Sometimes we project onto reasonable people the trait of being unreasonable. Most of us occasionally jump to conclusions, make wrong assumptions, and misunderstand other’s motives and intentions. If we’re misreading people we’ve got to work on AWARENESS . If we’re too sensitive we’ve got to work on RESPONSIBILITY.
  6. Set up boundaries. These are intended to protect you from further manipulation and to put space between you and them, not to change them.
  7. Learn from your mistakes. Untangling from unreasonable drama queens/kings takes practice!
  8. Create space. They can’t drive you crazy if you don’t interact.
  9. Give up the fantasy that empathy, logic, and communication strategies will make an unreasonable person reasonable. Unreasonable people usually don’t care about empathy, logic, or others’ feelings.
  10. Stay sober. Softening the impact of unreasonable people with booze is tempting but it only makes you more vulnerable to their manipulations.
  11. Say as little as possible. If you have to be around them just listen. There’s no point in arguing.
  12. Read the Boy Who Cried Wolf and ask yourself, “How many broken promises do I need to hear before I realize this person is unreasonable?”
  13. Don’t expect empathy or understanding. You’ll only feel worse for trying to get them to show empathy or understanding.

NEXT: Leftover Crazy Making Funnies

Phrases to use with Unreasonable People (5 of 7)

Unreasonable people phrases


In my never ending quest to make complex subjects simple, here are some suggested phrases to use with unreasonable people.

When others try to get their way by yelling, sulking, playing victim, threatening or blaming….

I’m sorry you’re upset.
I can understand how you might see it that way.
That’s interesting.
Yelling, threatening, withdrawing, crying is not going to work anymore and it doesn’t resolve anything.
Let’s talk when you’re feeling calmer.
You’re absolutely right.
You’re entitled to believe what ever you want. I just happen to see it differently.

When others punish, threaten to punish, or use pressure tactics.

That’s your choice.
I hope you won’t do that….but I’ve made my decision.
I know you’re very angry right now. When you’ve had a chance to think about this, maybe you’ll change your mind.
Threats/suffering/tears aren’t going to work anymore.
I’m sorry I upset you.

When others call you names, label you, or judge you.

You’re entitled to your opinion.
I’m sure that’s how it looks to you.
That could be.
You may be right.
I need to think about this more.
We’ll never get anywhere if you keep insulting me.
I’m sorry you’re upset.

When they badger you with “Why did you do this….How could you….?” etc.

I knew you wouldn’t be happy about this, but that’s the way it has to be.
There are no villains here. We just want different things.
I’m not willing to take more than 50% of the responsibility.
I know how upset/angry/disappointed you are…but it’s not negotiable.
We see things differently.
I’m sure you see it that way.

When people go silent.

Sometimes letters are less threatening. Consider putting your concerns in writing. Reassure them that you can tell they are angry and that you’re willing to listen without retaliation. Use tact and diplomacy. Assure them you won’t exploit their vulnerabilities. Assure them, “I’m willing to listen whenever you want to talk about it” (don’t pursue them). Don’t be afraid to tell them their behavior hurts you. Expect to be attacked when you express a grievance (they think it’s an attack on them). Let ‘em go. If repeated olive branches are shunned, you’ve done all you can. It’s up to them to reengage.

When they dig in their heels and stonewall.

Can you help me understand why this is so important to you?
Can you suggest some things we can do to solve this problem?
Can you help me find some things we can do to make our relationship better?
Can you help me understand why you’re so upset?
I wonder what would happen if….?
I wonder if you can help me find a way to …?
I wonder how we can do this better/make this work?

NEXT: Relating to the Unreasonable

Relinquish the Unreasonable (4 of 7)

 Relinquish unreasonable people


To relinquish means to quit trying to change someone. It means we let them think, be, or act however unreasonable they want to be. It means if they make choices that we disapprove of we grieve, pray, let go, or do whatever is necessary so we don’t get drawn into their vortex of unreasonableness.

To relinquish means instead of working on others to develop traits they lack (see previous post on humility, awareness, responsibility, empathy, and reliability), we use the aggravation of the unreasonable person to motivate us to develop those traits.

To relinquish means accepting others as they are. What would you advise a friend who complained about their unreasonable loved one who was dangerous or sucked the life out of them? Go and do likewise.

To relinquish is to exercise “choice theory.” This means letting people make whatever choices they want (unless that person is your ten year old). We are not the parents of our spouses, friends, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, adult children, or parents. They are choice making individuals who have the prerogative to both be unreasonable and even to deny their unreasonableness.

Click here for another blog on relinquishing.

Next: Phrases to Use with the Unreasonable

Reasoning with Unreasonable People (3 of 7)

reasoning with unreasonable people


Reasoning with unreasonable people is reasonable! It makes total sense that a reasonable person would engage their unreasonable friend or loved one in negotiations.

Love prompts reasoning with the unreasonable. “If only the unreasonable person would become reasonable then we could resume our loving relationship. No more estrangement!”

Hope prompts reasoning with the unreasonable. “There’s always the possibility that the unreasonable person will see the light. If only I make my point louder, angrier, more winsomely, quieter, subtler, or more threateningly the unreasonable person will finally come around.”

Faith prompts reasoning with the unreasonable. “I remember how close we used to be, how much fun we used to have, and how easy it was to get along. I can see that happening again!”

When a reasonable person is motivated by faith, hope and love to reason with an unreasonable person who am I to judge? Go for it.

At the same time, I’ve rarely seen a reasonable person convince an unreasonable person to become reasonable. It just doesn’t work (as far as I can tell).

  • The harder the reasonable person tries the more unreasonable the other becomes.
  • Unreasonable people get energy from remaining intransigent, stubborn, and unreasonable.
  • Reasonable people who fail to get through to the unreasonable get really frustrated!
  • Reasonable people can become obsessed with trying to make unreasonable become reasonable.
  • Speaking English to a non English speaker doesn’t work. Reasoning with the unreasonable doesn’t work.

One response, “Quit trying.”

Since I’m not a fan of anyone beating their head against the wall, if you have an unreasonable friend or loved one in your life one approach would be, “See ya.”

If you do not get energy from debating, wrangling, or fueling another’s drama addiction, grieve the loss and move on.

But this approach doesn’t work for everyone so let’s explore other options.

NEXT: Relinquishing the Unreasonable

Unreasonable People (1 of 7)

Unreasonable people


Some people are unreasonable. No matter how much we coddle, cajole, and negotiate with them, they remain intransigent, inconsolable, and prickly. We bend over backwards trying to get along, we hold meeting after meeting with them trying to resolve our differences, and we even hire a professional counselor/mediator to help us reconcile and move on.

And all our efforts fall flat. What’s up with that? Why can’t we get through to them? Why do they seem to thrive on being perpetually hurt? Why do all our peace making efforts fail?

Because they’re unreasonable.

Being unreasonable is not a category of mental illness (that I know of), it’s not a bona fide psychopathology listed in the DSM V (that I know if), and it’s not treatable with medications or hospitalization (that I know of). It just a convenient label that describes people who, no matter what we do, refuse to bury the hatchet, let go of the past, and share in family holidays. It’s the people who blame us for their estrangement yet remain estranged no matter what we do. It’s the person who says, “You should know how you hurt me and how to make it better,” when in fact we do not know. It’s the chronic victim, the advice rejecting complainer, and the person whose world revolves around their pain.

In this series we’ll talk about coping with the unreasonable.

2  Traits of Unreasonable People
3  Reasoning with the Unreasonable
4  Relinquishing the Unreasonable
5  Relating to the Unreasonable
6 Phrases to use with the Unreasonable
7  Extra Crazy Making Funnies