Respond or React: What’s your instinct?

Respond or React: What’s your instinct?

Ever watched a match catch fire? That instant when the sparks ignite, and the entire head of the matchstick bursts into flame in a fiery ball and then burns steadily for a few seconds, is probably one of the most fascinating things ever invented by man.

As compelling as it is to watch this, the same cannot be said for the human instinct to react to a stimulus with uncontrolled, fierce outbursts.

Imagine a scenario now. A person says or does something provocative: How do you answer? React in anger or slow down and respond with care? My worst feature, if I were asked to stand up and say it aloud in a room full of people, would be my temper.ย People close to me know it and my family has seen the worst of it. Correction: They still see it on some days.

This has come as a surprise to many people who have known me in passing or who have chanced upon me online, on the blog or on social media and they always ask, ‘You? Lose your temper? Really?’

Welcome to the inside of my head. Fortunately or otherwise, I have a very strong sense of right and wrong. It’s something that’s been an integral part of my upbringing as well as my own evolution as a woman, daughter, wife, mother and now writer too.

What happens here is that the second I see something which goes against my moral compass, I react. It’s almost primal and reflexive. My blood boils, all the wrong buttons get pushed and before I know it, I’ve exploded and said things I would regret ten minutes later.

Here’s the interesting dichotomy though: I am rather reactive offline( among close friends and family) but consciously responsive online. How, you ask? Because online, I try to weigh my words before putting them down for posterity. Offline, I have the advantage of verbal and visual cues to help with my apology after an outburst. Online, I lack that trump card so I play my hand with care.

You may assume that this is ridiculously impossible or bordering on split personality but think about it. Have you ever said something in anger only to go back and realise that it made little sense? How often have you managed to douse that fire?

Why I bring this up is two-fold. As a parent to a tween, ย I notice that she is going through what can best be described as the ‘I defy everything’ phase. It can be something as simple as a meal I’ve made for her to asking her to get dressed for an event. If she’s not in the right mood (and at the moment that seems like every hour), she will react, almost without provocation. She calms down soon and apologises but the fact is, she does react.

I’ve been working hard on minimising my own reaction to situations and increasing my conscious response instead, in the hope that she will begin to mirror that behaviour but it’s a long, hard road. A leopard can’t completely change its spots, you see. Maybe it can learn to blend with the background though.

The second reason I touch upon this topic today is a strain of behaviour I see online a little too often. There’s a tendency to pull other people down. Social media gives us so much license to react that responding with care is a rarity.

Criticism is never something people can take well, I notice and the one thing they seem to thrive doing is react in anger with generic posts/tweets about ungrateful people. It’s not too hard to figure out who is the target of these posts either among mutual friends and it often leaves a very unpleasant taste in the mouth. Add to that the removal of people from friend lists and things get murkier.

My question to these people is simple: Do you actually feel better after ranting and venting your anger online? Does it help you heal, forgive, forget and move on? Does the validation of a few ‘likes’ or some retweets soothe your bruised ego? ย Instead, if you were to weigh your words and respond instead of reacting, would it not help you in the long run?

Today, I ask that you conduct a simple test. Take a topic/ person that angers you and instead of reacting to the stimulus, I ask that you respond with a private note in your own diary. Say everything you want to say, but let it be for your eyes only. Read it back to yourself. Would you be okay if you heard this from someone else?

There lies your answer.

Reaction and response are both like fire.Fire, by itself, isn’t bad. It can be life-giving, provide warmth, help us feed ourselves and offer light. But a burst of it with no direction can easily burn everything we hold dear, into a pile of ashes.ย 

 

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17 thoughts on “Respond or React: What’s your instinct?

  1. Well said, Shailu. I often feel that people spend too much time online, and become competitively desperate for attention and get sucked into that whirlpool of “likes” and reactions. That newsfeed streams steadily and one does not really focus on what matters. One thing that works is the laying it on thick of negative stuff. So much easier to rant and gossip. So sad. The number of people who readily say congratulations over someone achieving something is far less than people stumbling over one another to add their bit to a murky bit of news.

    ๐Ÿ™‚ Good to see it for what it is. And good to have friends who care and are removed from all this! Hugs!

  2. I confess, I do the same thing at times, when I am in that incensed frame of mind. But, the only difference is that, I gulp my words instead of spitting them out. For, 'that' is one thing I can't do – I get a lump in my throat, and I burst out crying! At times, I wonder why I was made such a ninny, but at others, I am grateful that my words don't hurt people and make me feel guilty later on. Apologising would be toughest! Hehehe! But, I like your idea of writing all those things down, for my eyes only. Since some time now, I have begun weighing my words before uttering them, that much less stress in life, no?

  3. This is deeply ingrained in our everyday lives. However hard we try, we keep coming across people and events, where the worst in us screams and kicks like an insolent child to come out.

    I had a short fuse until few years ago. As I started studying Dhoni, I calmed down. Now, before I respond (offline and online), I ask myself, “What Would Dhoni do?” That doesn't mean that I don't give into my anger, but such instances are few and far in between.

    I would respectfully differ a perspective in this post – the sense of right and wrong. I've noticed that when I harbor strong beliefs, I'm less accommodative. In turn, it makes me react instead of respond. Instead, simply accepting that we don't know everything, and opening our minds to alternate views also helps us develop the ability to let go. It's helped me ๐Ÿ™‚

    Great post Shailaja! Off to share this.

  4. Well said. If only people would think more before they react or respond, things would have been simpler. I think it also comes from the sense of acceptance in the form of shares and likes/comments online that people lose the ability to think. All they do it react.

    What a well thought out post, Shailaja. Loved reading it and something I can read again and again.

  5. I totally agree with what you say. Whether in real life or online, it makes sense to measure your response. Where we all fail is in the execution. Sometimes we just erupt. Maybe the provocation is too strong. Maybe we feel too strongly about the topic. I don't know. We as bloggers are more vocal online and that could be a reason why we are more exposed to rants.l think this is a lifelong process to not react but respond. Thank you for the reminder.

  6. Thanks Vidya. I also feel it's a process of evolution so I don't hold anyone accountable completely for their actions on social media. As for why people spend time online, that again is open to debate. We have no idea what's going on in their lives either.

    Feeling instinctively happy for another doesn't come naturally to many people. We must be happy for ourselves before we can be happy for others.

  7. I am actually very accommodative despite having strong beliefs, Vishal ๐Ÿ™‚ It's surprising, I know, but I usually give people the benefit of the doubt, rarely take things said at face value and almost always understand that there's more beneath the surface than what I can see.

    When I speak of my strong sense of right and wrong, I speak from an ethical standpoint. However, from the moral and universal view, I try to operate from a space of love than that of judgment. It's served me well thus far. Opening ourselves to alternate views is, of course, the cornerstone to good relationships.

    Thank you so much for the kind comment. Much appreciated.

  8. I am glad you caught the essence of the post, Rachna. This need to check our responses is surely a lifelong and learned act and one we can all do well to attempt on a regular basis. Thank you for reading and understanding too.

  9. I was so like Gy in this matter… I had been a really irritating daughter during my teenage years… short tempered but like you only to close ones. Others found it hard to believe that I could even raise my voice. But as I aged (sigh!!) I have learnt to be more patient. I just keep quiet if something doesn't go my way.
    Having said that some people specialize in getting on your nerves and then you can't help it ๐Ÿ™‚ I remember your 'yell less' posts, which is a very good practice ๐Ÿ™‚ As for the online abuse, ignore… no one needs that kind of negativity in life, that too from a virtual world.

  10. Yes. As far as ethics go, having a strong stand forms the foundation of being steadfast. Certain things in life cannot be compromised. Values are one of them.

    Good points Shailaja.

  11. Isn't it strange how we can be two completely different people? Which is why one strategy for yelling less is to imagine having a camera trained on you. Not that it works for me since I KNOW there is no camera. I think it is only the kids who bring out that immediate angry explosive response from me. Sigh! But now's the time to take it easy with them.

  12. I must say that it works for me, after the fact though. And yes, excessive patience works wonders as does the concept of reasoning with them when they are at this age. Something has switched in the last weekend trip though. She's become sensitive and understanding again. Praying this lasts.

  13. As a teen, I can totally agree with you on the reacting point. It just happens involuntarily, I guess. We don't actually realise the possible repercussions of our misdirected anger, and maybe that leads us to random displays of steam-through-the-nose-and-ears.

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