On Being Unreasonable: Breaking the Rules and Making Things Better
A unified theory of reasonableness – and how to be unreasonable for the right reasons.
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We’re living in an age of division. From abortion rights to immigration, gun control to climate change, civil debate has gone out the window. Manners, order, and respect are being eroded. Why can’t we all be reasonable?
The trouble is, what’s ‘reasonable’ to one person is outrageous to another. Is it okay to let children play in the garden while others are working from home? To do your makeup on a train, or recline your seat on an aeroplane? What’s the right way to breastfeed? To protect your neighbourhood? To protest against injustice and oppression? In a world where we all think we’re being reasonable, how can we figure out what’s right?
Looking back through history and around the world, Kirsty Sedgman set out to discover how unfairness and discrimination got baked into our social norms, dividing us along lines of gender, class, disability, sexuality, race… Instead of measuring human behaviour against outdated standards of rules and reason, On Being Unreasonable argues that sometimes we need to act unreasonably to bring about positive change.
If you’re tired of trying to reason with people who have the power to decide the outcome before you begin, if you’ve ever wondered who gets to say what’s reasonable in the first place (clue, the ‘everyman’ of the Clapham Omnibus looks and sounds a whole lot like the vast majority of every cabinet in British politics), if you know we can’t go on this way but feel stifled and silenced by the insistence that it’s just not reasonable to demand more or better – then this book is for you. Accessible, thoroughly researched, inclusive, and engaging, Sedgman’s call to open our mouths, to step up, and to engage, unreasonably if necessary, may be just what we need in this moment.
On Being Unreasonable is a compulsively readable, often hilarious book with a serious thesis: that acting in accordance with our values often asks us to behave in a manner which society deems unreasonable, even outrageous. Throughout its tightly-argued chapters, Sedgman expertly dissects many ‘rules’ of civility, exposing how they – by design – serve the interests of the most powerful. Provocative and thoroughly-researched, this is no easy affirmation of what we already believe – expect to be challenged, called to account, and ultimately empowered. In the end, Sedgman asks us to think deeply, and to have the courage to blaze new trails, not only for ourselves, but for all those who follow us.
On Being Unreasonable is that rare book which is both genuinely funny and truly important. Via an entertaining tour of twenty-first century life, from breastfeeding in public to pulling down statues, Sedgman provocatively challenges the pervasive insistence on ‘reasonableness’. Far from being a passport to a just society, she says, this has become a tool to stymie those who call out injustice. If we want to challenge the truly, or ‘unreasonably’ unreasonable, we must become ‘reasonably unreasonable’ ourselves.
On Being Unreasonable shows how apparently innocuous judgments about what’s reasonable, and what's not, allow us to structure our interactions, reinforce our relationships, and police others' behavior. It turns out, those judgments are not innocuous at all! With humor, erudition, and disarming charm, Sedgman traces the lines that both help us along and trip us up. You’ll want to read this book. You’d be unreasonable not to!
A much-needed manifesto for anyone who wants – at this time of environmental and political crisis – to be usefully unreasonable.
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