One of the things we must conquer in order to have a joyful life is a flaw that's often ignored. It’s the issue of “reacting vs. responding.” Until we understand and value the difference between the two, we’ll likely create a lot of unnecessary stress in our lives (and others). Let me share some simple examples:
Mom walks into the family room where her child has spilled Kool-Aid on the new carpet. She’s faced with a choice: Do I react...or respond? To react might mean to berate and ridicule the child for being a klutz. It could include name calling, embarrassment, humiliation or a level of anger that’s intimidating and terrifying. It does nothing, however, to make the Kool-Aid stain disappear...and it also misses what could be a valuable teaching opportunity.
Better to respond! For instance, you might say, “Honey, let’s clean this up together and see if we can get rid of it! When I was little, I made mistakes too. I still love you, and always will.”
In the process of cleaning it up together, the child learns some invaluable things.
1) Grace makes me feel secure; anger makes me feel insecure.
2) When I make a mistake, it doesn’t make me a mistake.
3) Mom loves her new carpet, but not as much as she loves me.
4) Some things can't be fixed, so I need to be more careful (since we can't get the stain out entirely!), and of course, there’s much more.
But it’s not just parents who make the mistake of reacting instead of responding. Bosses do this all the time. Some are experts (and proud of it) at catching people doing something wrong. Such men/women aren't the best leaders, but often the person who leads them is the same way. (Ineffective leaders tend to multiply themselves). That’s why even the best companies eventually lose their edge. The poor leaders promote one another and eventually the workplace culture diminishes.
School teachers make this error too. A child colors outside the lines. The teacher gives him/her a lower grade. That’s a reaction, not a response. A response might be to say, “Susan, you chose such wonderfully vivid and beautiful colors. You have an artistic gift and talent. You’re so creative...but let’s work on being creative and staying inside the lines, because discipline and creativity is a powerful combination. That's the best way to be successful in life."
Children, of course, will almost always react rather than respond, but then we expect that from children, don’t we?
But adults? We need to work on this one. We who are thoroughly married to our own opinions, our own political or moral viewpoints, our own ego, pride and judgmentalism...we're the ones who aren't usually very happy...and it shows.
Reacting instead of responding is a bad habit that many of us learn from our parents, who probably learned it from their parents, Discontentedness is often generational, but it's time to break the cycle, don't you think?
The one thing that should always decrease as we mature and grow wiser is the value we ascribe to our own opinions. Finding ways to compromise, without sacrificing your principles, is something you don’t see much of these days. They used to call it statesmanship...diplomacy...or better yet, basic kindness. By the way, if you’re really intentional about being kind, you’ll find it much easier to be a person who responds, rather than reacts. If being kind isn't a priority for you; if you ignore or excuse it, you'll probably face many more years of relationship challenges and self-induced stress. And yes, only you can break the cycle.
So, how does this make you feel? If you answer by reacting, I've done a poor job convincing you that there's a better way. Maybe it's worth going back and reading this again; then we can both encourage encourage one another while there’s time and opportunity (Hebrews 3:13).
Blessings to you!