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. 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, 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? 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.