Is There a Difference?
Another major lesson to be learned from the practice of mindfulness is understanding the difference between a response and a reaction. Before I began my practice, I would unknowingly use the two terms interchangeably, when in reality there is a significant difference between the two.
I always try to practice acting in a responsive manner as opposed to a reactive one, but the former is not a definitive approach to living. Allow me to attempt in explaining the difference.
By definition, a reaction is “an action performed or a feeling experienced in response to a situation or event.” You can even tell how closely the two terms are related due to the fact that the official definition of reaction includes the word response. However, for the most part, reaction is viewed negatively from a mindfulness perspective.
At its most basic form, an example of a reaction can include the notion of “fight or flight.” Most scenarios of this fight or flight reaction begin with the idea of a wild animal running directly towards you. Some people may choose to run away as quickly as they can – and others may choose to fight the beast to the best of their ability. It should be mentioned that there is no judgmental difference between the two. Whether you flee from the beast or you choose to attack it only institutes a difference in the way that particular, unfortunate individual is wired.
To delve a bit deeper, a reaction is something that you immediately show when confronted with a scenario, whether it be a positive or negative one. If someone disagrees with your opinion, a reaction would be to immediately shove that person to the ground. If your boss gives you a compliment on a project you just completed, an internal reaction may be that you are immediately expecting a promotion the very next day.
I, personally, am not a fan of reactions because they entail little contemplation. I do, on the other hand, understand that there are circumstances in this world where reactions are more necessary than responses. The wild beast example can be modified any which way – it could be a burglar entering your house, a car heading straight towards you, or you are in dire need of a glass of water. In these situations, there is no need to sit down and observe the correct response.
A response is a more mindful approach to situations that may come your way. It includes giving more reason, and less emotion, to your action. For example, imagine you are at work and somebody calls you with a question you may not immediately know the answer to. If you are more likely to react, as opposed to respond, you may give a complete guess of the answer; and if that answer is wrong it projects a negative light upon you and your employer. However, if you do not know the answer and you wish to act in a responsive manner, simply tell the person that you will look into it and that you will get back to them as soon as possible. If that person is upset with that response and degrades you, then they are reacting and not responding. Their disrespect is bestowed upon them, not yourself – you must convince yourself of this.
Another example may include a disagreement between you and a loved one. If your partner includes something in the argument that gets beneath your skin, a reaction to that contribution may lead you to say something that will forever dent the relationship, despite the eventual outcome. Instead, do not allow an argument to escalate to an unreachable mindful state. Keep calm with your partner, and hopefully they will respond similarly.
Simple, Not Easy
As what seems to be a universal theme to mindfulness, the idea of reaction versus response is not exclusive. Please trust me when you read this, because I am absolutely a person that tries to resolve matters as quickly as possible in order to please the other person in the situation. However, mindfulness has taught me that it is better to come up with the most logical response in a thoughtful way as opposed to a reaction, coming up with this same response via multiple different and incorrect attempts.
“Respond; don’t react. Listen; don’t talk. Think; don’t assume.”