"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
- George Bernard Shaw
I have a vision for how the world ought to be and operate. Most of us do. And in no case does the existing reality meet that vision. While most of us sit on the sidelines and let our thoughts about our ideal worlds be just that - thoughts, there are some who are constantly battling to turn their thoughts and ideas into reality - a reality that everyone else around them subscribes to. And this small set of people contains notable examples like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden.
While these are extreme examples, we all have that little voice in us that wants us to bring about a change, to turn what's around us into a better place. This is what leads people to become environmentalists, scientists, politicians, entrepreneurs, teachers, writers, musicians, and everything else that they voluntarily choose to do if fame and money was taken out of the equation.
Unfortunately, taking money and fame out of the equation isn't in the least bit simple. In fact, Robert Waldinger gave a TEDTalk recently, where he talked about a survey that was conducted asking millenials what their life goal was. And the result? More than eighty percent of the people surveyed mentioned that their goal was to get rich and more than fifty percent of the same people said that they wanted to be famous.
More often than not, those who want to get rich and those who want to get famous repress their ideas that deviate from what's expected of them. Instead, they adapt. And they conform. These are not creators. How many times have you decided to suck it up and go with what your boss says rather than argue with her and risk getting in her bad books? How many times have you taken decisions so as not to offend your partner or your parents or your friends even though you believed otherwise? That's adapting.
Of course, it isn't practical to be unreasonable all the time. Nor is it wise. After all, we don't feel passionately about changing every aspect of what's around us. We have our priorities. And those are the ones we ought to be unreasonable about. The ones where we do not compromise no matter what. Even if what's at stake is getting rich or getting famous. Otherwise, there would be no progress. We would still have slavery. We would still be oppressing lower castes. We would not have secular states. We wouldn't have embraced homosexuality (which we still haven't in India).
As John Graham-Cumming puts it:
"You have to be 'unreasonable' to get things done. By that, I mean that you have to go against the norm. If you are reasonable and go in the direction of society, then you don't contribute greatly. Just look at people like Richard Stallman and Linus Trovalds. Stallman's ideas were pretty 'unreasonable' at a time when there was a large move to proprietary software. Trovalds was 'unreasonable' in thinking that he could build his own kernel and in telling Tannenbaum where to go."And as BH Liddell Hart writes in 'Why don't we learn from history?':
"A different habit, with worse effect, was the way that ambitious officers when they came in sight of promotion to the generals' list, would decide that they would bottle up their thoughts and ideas, as a safety precaution, until they reached the top and could put these ideas into practice. Unfortunately, the usual result, after years of such self-repression for the sake of their ambition, was that when the bottle was eventually uncorked the contents had evaporated."We need to pick our battles, and pick them wisely. Another way of saying this is that we shouldn't complain about something unless we have a suggestion to improve the situation. And we shouldn't not complain about anything.