Don’t react, always respond

I came across an interesting anecdote when I visited a restaurant sometime back. Although, it sounded a bit amusing at that point in time, I must admit that many a lesson was imbibed in me in the subsequent days.

A cockroach flew from somewhere and sat on a lady customer. She started screaming out of fear. With a panic-stricken face, trembling voice and jumping around, she tried to get rid of the insect with both her hands. Her reaction was contagious. The lady finally managed to push the cockroach away only for it to land on another lady in the group. Her reaction was on similar lines.

Unnerved by the hysterical drama, the waiter attending on their table, rushed to rescue the damsels in distress. Fully composed and studying the movements of the cockroach, he grabbed it with his fingers and threw it out of the restaurant.

Even as I was watching the chaos, the antenna of my mind picked up a few thoughts. I wondered if the cockroach was responsible for the behaviour exhibited by the women. If so, how was it that the waiter was least bit affected? Apparently, it was not the cockroach, but the inability of the people to handle the disturbance that adversely impacted the ladies.

Then and there, I realised that it is not the shouting of my father or my boss or my wife that disturbs me, but my inability to handle the disturbances caused by their shouting that was responsible. It’s not the traffic jams on the road but my inability to handle the disturbance caused by the traffic jam that disturbs me.

More than the problem, it’s my reaction to the problem that creates chaos in my life. Lessons learnt from the story: I understood, I should not react in life. I should always respond. The women reacted, whereas the waiter responded. Reactions are always instinctive whereas responses are always well-thought of.
The social media is agog with this beautiful speech reportedly by Sundar Pichai.

Reaction and response make a world of difference in your approach to life. I still remember the first lessons offered to me by my father on the day of my marriage. Marital discord stems when the two take mutually irreconcilable positions, although they begin with a skirmish.

The logic is rather simple-When your wife is angry, be patient, when you are angry, let her remain silent for a moment. Both will reconcile, advised my father. It’s a simple solution to most of the problems in family life. Although, it sounds a difficult proposition, it is worth following.

Just ponder for a moment before you have to speak out, and you will be surprised at the refinement brought about in the speech. Management consultant, Jon Mertz says, “There may be a slight difference between the words react and respond.

Yet, in practice, there seems to be a gulf of difference. When people react, it seems to be defensive and to one’s disadvantage. We are uncomfortable with what is being said or done, and we react.” Emotions define reactions. When people react, emotions dictate. When you are emotional, you may go wrong or behave irrationally and illogically.

In stark contrast, response is measured and logical due to which, the probability of a judgemental error is considerably less. You will go wrong only when your thought-process is erroneous. Response is advisable compared to reacting to a situation because, by and large, logic, more than emotions, guide response.

Ancient Chinese philosopher, Laozi (also Lao-Tzu) has a simple solution to offer when confronted with unusual situations: Have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water gets clear. This brief, but critical, pause clears you of your emotions.

Angry outbursts are often the reaction to something you don’t like. If your child breaks something, you will immediately shout at him. Sometimes, the child may not be wrong. Due to asymmetry of relationship between you and your child, the latter suffers in silence.

But before you shout at him, consider whether it was intentional or unavoidable. Your response will be completely different but will ensure better vibes between both of you. Let me recall my childhood days. One morning, I was searching for soap when I had to go for bath. I could not find it.

My father shouted at me and showed me where it was. It was kept in a remote corner and I could not notice it. Next day when my father was to go for a bath, I deliberately kept the soap exactly at the same place. My father yelled on not finding the soap. But when I showed it, my father realised his earlier mistake. Since then, he considered for a moment before shouting at me.

This principle applies to all occasions. Before reacting at someone, think for a while. Reactions are instinctual while response is a conscious choice. Simple steps make a conscious choice. Study the situation that acted as a stimulus. Evaluate the circumstances. Identify the problem. Analyse its dimensions and ramifications. Speak to others who can guide you.

Reflect only after you are fully conscious of the problem. Analyse the relative merits and demerits of various options to handle the situation. Instead of jumping to a conclusion, suspend your judgement till the time you make a conscious choice rather than behaving instinctively and regretting later. One will never commit suicide if one goes through this process. Don’t react, learn to respond in life.

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