Rational Reactions to Challenging Situations


By: Roz Jones

Rational and reasonable, at least linguistically, are synonymous. In fact, Webster uses these words to help define each other. 

Rational- Having or exercising the ability to reason: Of sound mind: Consistent with or based on reason (Webster’s New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984).

Reason: Within the bounds of common sense. Not extreme or excessive. The capacity for rational thought, inference, or discrimination (Websters New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984)

Our emotions are a reflection of our perceptions of what’s going on around us, and in turn they lead us to externally display one or more patterns of behavior in reaction to that stimuli. In any given situation, our emotions are going to have an impact in how we react. 

When these situations are especially challenging it can be difficult to maintain rational thought patterns and behavior within the confines of reason; as portrayed by Portia. 

If this were true, then should I know this secret. 

I grant I am a woman; but withal 

A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife: 

I grant I am a woman; but withal 

A woman well-reputed, Cato’s daughter. 

Think you I am no stronger than my sex, 

Being so father’d and so husbanded? 

 Tell me your counsels, I will not disclose ’em: 

I have made strong proof of my constancy, 

Giving myself a voluntary wound 

Here, in the thigh: can I bear that with patience. 

And not my husband’s secrets?

(The Tragedy Of Julius Caesar. (n.d.). Retrieved from Opensource Shakespeare: http://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/plays/play_view.php?WorkID=juliuscaesar&Act=2&Scene=1&Scope=scene)

Even though stabbing yourself in the leg is neither reasonable nor recommended, this one scene of Portia’s highlights the major points of remaining rational during a challenging situation. 

  • Remaining calm in a high-pressure situation
  • Maintain rational detachment
  • Be attentive
  • Recognize your limits
  • Be mindful of your own actions

Remain calm

Notice how Portia isn’t yelling and screaming at Brutus. She’s completely calm. She knows Brutus is up to something because she can clearly see the effect it’s having on him physically, how it’s weighing him down, so when she confronts Brutus and puts herself in this situation, she remains completely calm.

Maintain rational detachment 

Portia refers to her breeding and her choice of husband here as well. She’s calmly bringing up her, basically, credentials as she sees them. She has some authority here, though not very much, but she’s using what she has rather than taking the situation personally. Although she speaks about how Brutus’s treatment of her is affecting her personally, she’s not expressing that in an overtly emotional way in this particular scene. 

Portia is attempting to diffuse a situation that Brutus is in, and she know that if she reacts emotionally to the personal hurt, then she’ll get nowhere. Instead, she states her case with a degree of rational detachment. 

Be Attentive

Portia chose this particular moment in the garden with Brutus because she thought it to be a good time to address their situation. She’s mindful of her surroundings, and attentive to his current situation. 

Recognize your limits

Portia understands the limits of her standing as a woman in her society. Rather than making herself out to be too important to leave out of the equation, she pleads her case with Brutus by shining a light on her social and physical limitations, or rather, her limits as Brutus may see them as a man- even if she does mock his point of view just a tad bit. 

When she stabs herself in the leg, she recognizes that it’s painful, and addresses this fact in an attempt to portray her rational state of mind as a strength. Her use of her physical and social limits reflects a stoic, and rational, state of mind even though she’s probably very distraught. 

Be mindful of your own actions. 

Again, Portia is mindful of the fact that she’s basically ambushed Brutus just before he’s about to do something regretful. She doesn’t know exactly what he’s involved in, but she does have a feeling that it’s something horrible.

She’s completely mindful of her actions of ambushing Brutus, kneeling at his feet to beg, using every one of her tools in her arsenal to convince him to succumb to her will, even stabbing herself. At every phase she remains completely calm, and rational in her thoughts and actions. 

Rational thinking is the ability to consider all of the relevant variables in any given situation. Reacting rationally implies that your actions are a direct result of rational thought, even if some actions seem unreasonable. 

Portia’s display of feminine wiles in this scene depicts the Stoic philosophy of her day, and although it’s a play, it’s a perfect example of all of the components of rational behavior during challenging situations. 

Obviously, stabbing yourself is never reasonable. Remember that this is an artistic expression from Shakespeare, so certain components were included with the express purpose of highlighting the mistakes Brutus made. However, the principal stands. Rational behavior is best deployed in highly stressful situations, even if others like Brutus, do not behave rationally themselves.

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