(About a 4 minute read)
Almost certainly because I composed a poem about her this morning, I am missing my mom, who died a year ago to this month. And as so often happens, one of the three or four top things I’m missing is her rationality.
I’m under the impression most folks simply do not closely associate rationality with their mothers. I hope that’s more because they value other things, such as love, so much more than because their mothers were not very rational. But it would not be much of an exaggeration to say, my mother was, not merely rational, but hyper-rational.
She actually shocked me once when she couldn’t give me any good reasons why I was to go with her to a symphony concert despite my desire to stay home that night. Of course I was shocked because I couldn’t recall her having done such a thing before. At least, not in any way important to me.
Perhaps contrary to stereotype, her rationality never amounted to be her being any less caring, any less loving to my brothers and me. But if I had to list only four traits she possessed that I valued the most, rationality would be number two or number three. Perhaps loving and caring, kindness, rationality, and humor.
I know precisely in what ways I miss her rationality. Among the most important, was the way I felt secure because of it. Life with her made sense. There almost never seemed to be any significant exceptions to that rule — except for rare events like the night of the symphony.
At school, I unfortunately had to deal with some often enough irrational teachers, and even more often, irrational peers. Ironically, mom’s rationality failed me there.
It failed me because the contrast between her and, say, a particular teacher could be so great as to discomfort and upset me. Moreover, I simply hadn’t needed to develop the skills to deal with such things.
When my first grade teacher, for instance, turned out to be both irrational and a bit cruel (she once violently shook me for drawing a ship in two-point perspective, accusing me of submitting the work of my older brother as my own, despite that I’d drawn it in her classroom, right under her nose), all I could do was weep and retreat into a shell. I didn’t even know enough to report the incident to mom.
Then too, as I grew older, mom’s influence spoiled me for nearly every girl in my school. To be sure, I still lusted after most of them physically, but I couldn’t emotionally connect with almost any. They more than bored me, they appalled me with their lack of what I thought of as the most basic reasoning skills.
I escaped into fiction, into the strong heroines of Robert Heinlein’s novels, spending hungry hours yearning for them to be real and then for us to be friends. Or in one or two cases, I stubbornly projected onto some girl a rationality she simply failed to possess.
I have a friend these days who enjoys reminding anyone who will listen — and quite a few who won’t — that humans are “fundamentally irrational animals”. While I know there’s a sense in which that’s certainly true of us, I also know — as he apparently does not — that humans can learn rationality to an astonishing degree.
Never perfectly, of course. Not even close to that. But to such a degree that it can surprise folks around them when they behave irrationally in some significant way.
Still, he has a point. Most of us could do much better than we do. Another way mom’s example failed to prepare me for the world at large is that it has taken me nearly 55 or so of my 61 years to more than superficially grasp — not merely that most of us could do better — but even more crucially, that most of us really don’t care to do better.
In fact, even now I only understand that point intellectually. Emotionally, it still largely eludes me.
I was once quite a snob about rationality. I looked down on people I found lacking in it, and I found most of us lacking to some important degree. But that began to change for me around mid-life.
I began to value such traits as kindness more than rationality. At least in social friends. In bosses and other people in positions of power — well, I simply can’t tolerate much deviation from it. To me, it’s just too instinctively frightening to know I’m at the mercy of an irrational person.
I won’t mind your laughing at this if you wish, but I get warm and fuzzy feelings from my memories of my mom reasoning with me, or from her doing something strikingly reasonable. They are every bit as powerful as my memories of her love, kindness, humor, or really, anything else.
I was annoyed all through my growing up with mom’s constant corrections of my logic. Not so much because she corrected me, however, as because she interrupted me to correct me. Apparently, she felt that helped drive the lesson home.
But today even her interruptions give me the warm and fuzzies. This morning, I’d do almost any reasonable thing for her to swoop in on one of my mistakes just one last time.