Living love is often messy, and it’s not always easy but it becomes a recurring gift we can give ourselves and the ones we love. Take a look. While working on breaking a long and unhealthy relationship with diet soda one summer, I had an emotional outburst. At the time, my head was throbbing from the caffeine withdrawal, and I was mad at myself for not listening to my urologist when she said it was imperative that I stop drinking soda.

As I grumbled to myself in the kitchen that morning, every crumb on the floor glared at me. I hollered at my daughters to help sweep and was met with a very lethargic 10-year-old who had a sore knee. She half-heartedly pushed the broom across the floor in no particular direction. After watching for a few minutes in irritation, I aggressively instructed her to “put some muscle into it!” When she made minimal improvement, I spouted off a tirade of complaints. As the harsh words tumbled out of my mouth, I cringed. I sounded so unreasonable. So erratic. So irrational. So unhinged.

But in my state of duress, I could not pull it together. The mediocre sweeping stopped abruptly and the girl pushing the broom began to cry. My older daughter intervened calmly. “Mom,” she said, “we know you’re trying hard to break an unhealthy habit, but please don’t be mean. Avery is trying.” My daughter Natalie saw to the root of the problem, and she responded compassionately and calmly a winning combination.

Irrationality loses power in the face of reason.

Fear diminishes in the presence of calm.

Conflict eases in the light of compassion.

This is what I know.

Over the past several years, I’ve learned to detect when I’m starting to latch on to Unreasonableness. I start to feel it weigh down my body. My heart begins racing. I can’t breathe or think straight. I start barking orders at loved ones or myself, as if to control an uncontrollable situation. Those unpleasant feelings and behaviors alert me to repeat my sister’s words. I say to myself: How can I help, Rachel? Those words help me stay in a rational place where communication opens up and help can be received.

Although it may sound odd, I’m thankful for my relationship with Unreasonableness. The growth and awareness stemming from it has prepared me to be a loving Guide to my kids as they navigate the teen years, a time that often seems to invite instability. Although I am still a work in progress, I am able to look past my daughters’ behaviors and see the deeper source of pain. As a result, they are often able to recognize it themselves. One afternoon, I received a frantic call from my older daughter about a neighbor’s house key she’d misplaced. In her moment of despair, she lashed out at me. I felt my frustration rising and my defensiveness go on high alert. But instead of matching her unreasonableness with my own, I reminded myself: That’s fear talking. She’s afraid the key is gone, and she won’t be able to do her job and she may get fired.

One of the best tools for living love is something I call The Reasonability Test. It is most helpful when I am met with pushback or at times when conflict is quickly escalating. During these times, I check in with myself using the following three questions:

  • Is what I am asking or saying reasonable?
  • Do I sound like the voice of reason?
  • Does my body language match my calm voice and words?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, there’s a good chance I’m contributing to the instability and conflict. I make adjustments to my words, tone, body language, and/or expectations so I can better understand and be better understood. If the answer to any of the three questions is yes, and the other person is not responding reasonably, it most likely means there is a deeper issue at hand.

That’s when I offer one of three reasonable responses to get to the root of the issue:

  • Help: “I know you are under a lot of stress right now, how can I help?”
  • Validation: “You really wanted it to work out differently. I am so sorry it didn’t work out that way.”
  • Space: “I’m going to give you some time to yourself. I’ll be right out here if you need me. Perhaps in a bit we can talk about why you’re so upset.”

To a scared soul, these responses feel like comfort, to a drowning mind, these responses feel like oxygen, to a rejected heart, these responses feel like acceptance. I can’t help but see how valuable The Reasonability Test is right now considering the current state of our world.

Consider the possibilities…

What if we were to see beyond the defensiveness, anger, and frustration of our fellow human beings to acknowledge the pain and fear within? What if we were a calm and steady voice of reason in our communities and our world – the voice that says, “I see you are having a hard time. Lean on me through this storm. We’ll get through it together.” Just think of the progress we could make if we offer compassion and seek understanding in a time of great uncertainty. Just think of the healing that could happen. Just think of the hope we could create.

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