August Turak

Author Consultant Speaker

Why Women Are Arbitrary and Capricious

The supposed irrationality of women demonstrates not only an even deeper rationality it is pure genius. How men as well as women use arbitrary and irrational demands to distinguish authentic love from its selfish alternative.

I was driving through the Judean Desert with an Israeli friend when he suddenly said, “I just don’t think I could ever be an observant Jew. Most of the rules and regulations in the bible just don’t make rational sense. They seem so arbitrary.”

“You’re right,” I replied, “but their arbitrariness is just what I like about them.”

*     *     *

The word “arbitrary” has a negative connotation. We associate it with the irrational, whimsical, and capricious. But in our rush to judgment we fail to consider that as mortal creatures our most valuable wasting asset is time. And many arbitrary rules save us lots of this most valuable of all assets.

Today our politically correct scolds insist that since everyone is “unique,” we must treat each and every person as an “individual.” On the face of it this is absurd. We encounter countless people in the course of life. We don’t physically have the time to plumb the depths of each soul we meet. And I for one have a few other things I’d like to do with my own rapidly wasting asset than delve deeply into every person I bump into in the grocery store.

Besides, much of what is great about America is that we treat every human being exactly the same irrespective of their unique traits. America’s concept of human rights depends on the arbitrary notion that people are the same; even though many people around the world still argue that human rights accrue only to the unique few. To these elitists, extending human rights to all, irrespective of individual merit, is an arbitrary and capricious decision.

Ironically the idea that everyone should be treated uniquely emerged from the concept of equality which means treating everyone the same. Everyone it seems has the same right to be treated uniquely; unless of course it means paying one teacher more than another based on her “unique” abilities.

Many pundits insist that I should hire only “diverse” people who are “different” from me. However like a biblical stiff- necked Jew, I arbitrarily insist that all prospective hires share my knee jerk, unquestioned bias for honesty, integrity, courtesy, and putting the customer first. What these putatively progressive pundits don’t realize is that diversity is only beneficial when it emerges from a matrix of shared values. Healthy diversity means harmonic variations on a common theme; not the cacophony of conflicting themes.

Another name for diversity without underlying commonality is tribalism; and even a cursory look at the Arab world and much of Africa reveals the horrors that tribalism brings. Subliminally, one of the reasons we are so horrified by the gridlock gripping our government is that our political parties no longer seem to be offering “diversity” around a single theme: but a regression to the irreconcilable tribalism that mankind has spent so many centuries trying to overcome. What our country needs is not the balkanization of more diversity. We need a concerted effort to recapture what we have in common.

All laws, policies, and regulations rely on treating classes of people the same. And many of the most important ones are arbitrary and even capricious. In most states a prospective driver must be sixteen. Why not fifteen or seventeen? No real reason. It’s just arbitrary. Arbitrariness is just too valuable to dispense with even if it occasionally means telling an eighteen year- old that he is old enough to die in battle but not old enough to drink beer.

The arbitrary is also critical to that all important yet forgotten social lubricant that used to be called “etiquette.” The demise of etiquette can be squarely attributed to our refusal to follow rules that often seemed so arbitrary and capricious: Rules that seemed to fly in the face of our selfish desires and unique requirements. So in the spirit of “we’re all adults here” we substituted a bastardized version of situational ethics. Now each and every human interaction has to be negotiated in situ and ad nauseam.

The result has been anything but more “freedom” let alone “tolerance.” Instead we blunder along trampling on each other’s feelings and then wonder why we all seem to be at each other’s throats. Despite its reputation for artificial and arbitrary snootiness, etiquette was invented to free us from the time consuming need to consciously worry about every damn human interaction. This in turn frees us to worry about the important stuff. Following the arbitrary rules of etiquette is a minor short term annoyance, but in the long run it alleviates life’s exhausting tendancy for being little more than one damn thing after another.

I for one would much rather wear a suit and tie every day than waste time calling each and every company I visit about their dress code. Is it impolite to call your prospective dinner host and inform her that you’re a vegetarian? Or is it impolite if she fails to ask and alter her menu just for you? (My mother raised me to eat what is graciously offered or just eat around it. I’ve been tempted, just for fun, to call my vegetarian friends and tell them I only eat meat. But my mother would consider that impolite. So I bite my tongue, eat my tofu, and wash it down with a thank you note instead.)

A few years ago my girlfriend asked for ballroom dancing lessons for her birthday. Why she did I could never figure out since it rapidly became apparent that she was already a great dancer. At our first lesson our female instructor sternly informed us that dancing etiquette meant “men lead and women follow.” End of discussion. Upon reflection I realized that without this arbitrary rule the dance floor would be chaotic. Besides who wants to waste time before every dance negotiating with your partner?

Constantly negotiating over trivial things causes more than a few divorces, but it is further complicated by our predilection for sending false signals. If you offer to help in the kitchen and your hostess declines will she be insulted if you insist or insulted if you don’t? Again, we all have better things to do with our wasting asset than live in constant fear of an unintentional faux pas.

But the most important role for the arbitrary lies in affairs of the heart. Men often disparage women for being irrational, arbitrary, and more than a little capricious. But if it is madness that motivates women, there is more than a little method to it. Women are constantly trying to distinguish the man who is sincere from the smooth talking player. So they continually test the male of the species for sincerity. When a man does something for a “good reason” he is compelled to action by his self-interest and devotion to logic. But if a man indulges a woman by doing something arbitrary and even capricious, he is doing it just for her. And this increases the probability that he is acting from no other reason than love.

A woman wants a man who loves her, and one of the most efficient ways to separate sincerity from fraud is by insisting that her suitor indulge her “little whims and fancies.” And this is why women prefer flowers with a shelf life of a few days to a perfectly good vacuum cleaner with a practical application and a shelf life of years.

The supposed irrationality of women not only demonstrates an even deeper rationality it is pure genius. And men as well as women occasionally use ostensibly arbitrary and irrational demands to distinguish authentic love from its selfish alternative.

And this is why I told my Israeli friend that while I too find many biblical injunctions too arbitrary and capricious to follow I am intrigued by them. If I feel compelled to obey God only when it makes earthly practical sense then maybe my real god is my all too human faculty of reason. However if I spiritually dig hole after hole only to fill them back in just for Him, then maybe just maybe I am acting only from love.

Follow me on Twitter @augustturak, or check out my website for more tips and strategies for becoming a great leader – and to discover how service and selflessness is the secret to success in business and in life.