Every situation allows you the opportunity to choose the manner in which you will answer. In a disturbing situation, you have the choice to respond or react. Thinking about this choice, I am reminded of the quote attributed to Plato. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It’s true that everyone is, has, or will again be battling something in his or her life. Your boundaries and your attitude will determine your response to every situation.
Reacting to a negative circumstance usually doesn’t end well. Reactions involve angry outbursts, sarcastic remarks, mean attacks, or more manipulative and passive expression of anger such as the silent treatment and guilt trips. Reactions may have different faces, but one thing they have in common is the damage they do to relationships and intimacy.
Responses, on the other hand, are genuine in not ignoring the situation but also in not attacking. Responding is stating how the actions or words of another have affected you. You can take care of yourself with your response without damaging the relationship. And you get to walk away from the confrontation, feeling good about yourself. One of our spiritual tasks is to move beyond our purely emotional reactionary way of life and begin to cultivate healthy responses as habits of the heart, meaning we learn to love even when we don’t “feel” loving, to be kind when we’d rather be surly, and feel grateful when we don’t particularly feel like being thankful. In this way we turn feelings, which come and go, into conscious attitudes that we enact even if we don’t “feel” like it. Responses allow you to make decisions about how you want to handle an offense in a much more calculated and helpful manner.
The decision of how you will act when something or someone disappoints you is a daily one. Will you choose to cultivate a positive attitude and gratefulness? Will you have the ability to respond versus react? What gets in the way of your responding more often? Is it a sense of entitlement, an angry heart, or a familiar pattern? I have found it is very difficult to have destructive reactions when you are nurturing a genuine attitude of gratitude in your life. In a nutshell, reacting destroys. Responding builds intimacy and self-efficacy. What will you choose?
Adapted from Finding Me Again: A Journey to An Authentic Life