Rational vs Rationalizing!

Haven’t we heard the statement – Man is a Rational animal – a million times before. Of the many types of animal he is – emotional, social etc., the ‘Rational’ argument is the most widely accepted one and probably the most effective one to put forth in this irrational chaotic world. The argument helps and is rather comforting to one and all – atleast something in the world is orderly. And, therein lies the catch. I would like to argue on a slightly different platform – I would say that ‘Man is a Rationalizing animal’ rather than just Rational. What is the difference, you are just playing with words?, you might ask/say. I would only say – A lot.

‘Being Rational’ is to act upon reason or understanding. Rational explanation or rational behavior is an act where the explanation/behavior is based on hard facts, which do not change according to the whims and fancy of the ‘Rational’ person. Rationalization, on the other hand involves twisting and distortion of facts and reasoning to suit your own purposes (in the objective world, this is called cheating) – and this, dear readers is not the behavior of a ‘Rational animal’. To quote Oscar Wilde here, “Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason!” You may ask or rather condemn me by saying – how dare you call me a cheater? I have never distorted facts in my life? Hmm, we all have. Let me explain – the rational way – cold, hard facts.

First things first, let me get the ‘mother of all rationalizing statements’ done with – ‘Whatever has happened has happened for the best!’ I guess, we have all heard this statement 100s of times over and again. As I say, no ‘rationalizing’ statement gets bigger than this. Then, what is rational behavior? In much simpler terms, in terms we understand probably the best – money. If I have lost Rs. 100 in a bet and I find Rs. 50 on the way back on the road – the ‘rational’ way to look at it is ‘I have lost Rs. 100 and I have gained Rs. 50′ and not the rationalizing behavior of ‘Ahh! it’s ok – I have just lost Rs. 50 today’! Seems a simplistic example?! Hmm…let me get into reality.

1) Education – Most of us have gone/are going through this phase of life. Let us for example assume (and in most cases, it is true) that you have not been able to get through a competitive exam successfully (EAMCET, IIT, CAT, GMAT etc etc.). You might not have got a rank, a score which doesn’t get you a seat in the college you desired or a percentile which is just marginally short of qualification. (already nostalgic? :) ) The point here is this – what happens after this? Life just moves on – and probably your thought process also moves on to ‘mother of all rationalizing statements’ again!!. And why are we not able to accept the ‘rational’ argument in this case? – simply because you just can’t think that you have failed! Period.

2) Career/Job – How about the coveted job you were looking out for? How about the salary you were aiming at? How about the promotion last year? What happened to your thought process when you got one of these and didn’t get one of them? I’ll tell you what happened to my thought process – My Success was defined by reason, hard facts for everyone to consider and ponder. Failure was marketed as ‘It happens you know. Life just doesn’t stop here, does it? Anyways, whatever happens, happens for the best’. Getting my line of argument? Another example…

3) Marriage - Oh boyy!! Volatile topic to handle – but essential reality of life. Not yet having experienced this phase of life – I cannot comment authoritatively. Yet, I quote an example – an example I heard very recently from two different friends of mine (girls!!!) on the same day (talk of luck! – or the lack of it :) )

- The friend who had an arranged marriage – You know what kiran! I would recomment arranged marriage to everyone. Love marriage involves so many baggages – uff, who would wanna take them along for the rest of their lives. Arranged marriage doesn’t have all these tensions. You just start off afresh!
– The friend who had a love marriage – You know what kiran! You gotta have a love marriage to experience what the feeling is like. You don’t have this tension of blending in with the other person, the usual tensions – he knows you well and you know him well – all other stuff is just manageable.

Let me not ‘rationalize’ my luck in saying that I got two new perspectives of life! Anyways, the point here was that neither of them knew how the other type of marriage was like – and their opinions were biased – rationalization again. (And don’t get me into the argument of ‘ohh…we had a love-arranged marriage’, ‘you know what, we had an arranged marriage but seemed like we were in love for the past two lives!’ Please!! It’s either a love marriage or an arranged marriage!! This rationalization of a combo for feeling better for yourself is plain mediocrity – and for further reference on my opinion on mediocrity, consult my previous blog!)

I can probably go on and on to quote multiple examples from different phases of life – probably restricted only by space. In most cases, rationalization happens when there is a failure. Naturally, the next question would be – ‘Is rationalization bad?’, ‘I am being happy rationalizing things! so, what’s the problem?’. No problem at all. And frankly, I have rationalized quite a bit in my life too. However, I realised over a period of time that when you start rationalizing, you start denying a part of your past – a past that was yours that you don’t want to be reminded of – you want to remember the past as you want to see it (my earlier argument of distorting facts!) and not what it actually was – if I may use the word, trivializing your past – in effect, trivializing yourself. Apart from this, I also see some malign side-effects of rationalization – ‘It feels good, so I want more’ , ‘Everyone is doing it, so it must be OK’, ‘I have to be consistent with my earlier taken stand’, and ‘If I said yes to x, then saying yes to 1.01 x is no big deal’ – sometimes leading to dangerous consequences.

So, is man a rational animal? I would quote one of the greatest philosophers of all time, Bertrand Russell when he said “It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this!”. I rest my case.

P.S -

1) Wherever I have said Man, it also implies a Woman (more so! in fact :P ) (what with lot of feminist bloggers around, you never know! ;) )

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5 comments so far

  1. M on

    whoa!! am wondering whether you are the same guy who wrote ‘sensual romance’!! [:)]

  2. Kiran on

    @M – Ahem! ah..well, welcome to the dark side :D!!
    btw…lots of orkuttin, eh? ;)

  3. Shrikanth on

    Though there are negative points to rationalizing, I am sure you will admit there are several postive points as well. Talking about the mother of all rationalizing, “Whatever has happened for our own good”, leaving aside other facets to this such as faith in God, optimism et al, I think, small issues does not bog you down, or fill your mind with sadness (apparently when something good happened, I bet 9 on 10 people never remember the statement though) and will affect you work, productivity for some time (depending on the sensitivity of the person to the issue). Definitely a collection of such issues if not treated can have career threatening prospects, leads to suicides, venting anger on the close people, spoil close relationship…and finally maybe earn the name MORON….
    So I think lot of thinking has gone into the mother of all rationalizing statements..

    S

  4. [...] Rationing – Rationing? Here I thought, I was trying to decipher some of the deepest human emotions(Rational vs Rationalizing) and the search engine term says ‘rationing’?? As if, I was writing from Serbia where [...]

  5. Seth on

    Robert A. Heinlein mentions this in his 1953 work – Assignment in Eternity.

    “Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.”


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