React or Respond

I don’t want to take credit for the title of this post. The very lovely Augusta, gets the props for this post’s designation. We were in Italy, in training, discussing speaking. Or speaking up, more specifically. When something happens that is less than favorable in life, we have a choice. And Augusta blurted out this gem of brilliance: we can respond, or we can react.

React (Merriam Webster):

1 to exert a reciprocal or counteracting force or influence —often used with on or upon
2 to change in response to a stimulus
3 to act in opposition to a force or influence —usually used with against
4 to move or tend in a reverse direction
5 to undergo chemical reaction

Respond (Merriam Webster):

1 to say something in return : make an answer <respond to criticism>
2 a: to react in response <responded to a call for help>
b: to show favorable reaction <respond to surgery>
3 to be answerable <respond in damages>

I like to say that reaction happens in both instances, but a response involves some thought first. To react is immediate.

I am reactionary by nature. I have a razor tongue, a sharp wit, an emotional lash. I can also be quick to laugh, jump, and assume. I react.

Now, if I were in a car, and a baby kitten jumped in front of me- I hope I am reacting quickly and swiftly. Or if I touched a hot pan. Yowzer. move those paws asap. So there is a place where reaction is good. But with people? Hmmm… not so much.

How many times have we reacted too quickly without thinking it through? In something we said, or did … only to regret it later? How many times do we jump before we even know what’s true or right or within perspective? I do it all the time. And I did it without even realizing I always had another choice: to respond.

These days, I’m trying to take a step back and respond appropriately. Writing a draft of an email before I send it. Sitting on a text response until I know exactly how to phrase it. Taking into account the potential reaction to my reaction. Giving others a chance to respond instead of react to what I am saying to them.

It’s all about being aware. Being aware of the present. Being aware of the quickness of pulse, the shortness of breath, that reaction that we want to have… and just taking a pause. A pause never hurt anyone. Is it worth the battle? Is it going to perpetuate the situation?

I have been more aware, and while i do slip up from time to time, I actually think for a moment- react or respond? I’ve been trying to choose the latter, and I think it has resulted in better communication and relationships.

I love this analogy by Steve Pavlina:

The Sensei in my martial arts studio often reminds us during sparring to respond but not to react.

When you react you’re not being authentic.  You’re sparring on your opponent’s terms.  You’re thinking too hard about what your opponent will do next.  You’re thinking, “If he does A, I’ll do B.  But if he does C, then I’ll do–”  Wham!  You get hit.  Then you feel you have to hit back.  You’re in strike debt, falling behind in the match.  And your sparring looks chaotic, kicking and punching at the same time your opponent is kicking and punching.  My Sensei calls this “tigering each other,” since the tiger always advances and never backs up.


When you respond, however, you’re sparring your way.  You keep your mind open and trust yourself to recognize what’s happening, both offensively and defensively.  You get a feel for the flow of the match.  You’re not thinking about what your opponent might or might not do.  You’re just centered in the present, trusting that your body will respond accordingly.  When you see an opening, your arms and legs naturally move to strike.  When your opponent reacts, you glide out of the way.  Your movements are more flowing and efficient.

Reaction-based sparring is competitive.  It’s a win-lose match.  It also tends to be tense and tiring.

Response-based sparring is like a dance.  There are no winners or losers, just an interesting experience.  It often feels invigorating.

I don’t know about you, but invigorating response sounds like a lot more fun.


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