Know the Difference Between Reacting and Responding

Barbara A. Bernard

Because I live in a world that is constantly changing, I’ve realized that understanding how I respond to change is important for my present and my future. What I’ve discovered is that when I react automatically, I deny myself the opportunity to breathe, consider, and then choose what and how I want to speak and act.

Reacting quickly is clearly necessary when danger is imminent. What I now know is that, in the majority of life circumstances, a thoughtful response is a choice. An immediate reaction eliminates that possibility and many times frequently creates more problems. The times I let myself to react quickly, the results are often not very pretty.

I have learned that in most situations, the world doesn’t need my instantaneous opinion or decision. I can give myself time to think. There is power in pausing and reflecting, because it often helps me to see a bigger picture, take in more information, and see more perspectives. Then I can be mindful of what words I use and the actions I take, allowing me to participate in creating a more compassionate world.

Another word for breathe is to inspire. When I inhale air into my body, when I give myself that moment, I am much more likely to respond from my inspired self. One of the meanings of reflect is to throw light upon. When I give myself time to think, to contemplate my response and my subsequent actions, what I give back to the world, my contribution, is much more likely to provide more light.

Developing my ability to navigate change is my choice. It helps me be adaptable and flexible and to embrace new circumstances and situations as they inevitably arise in my life. The gift of challenges and change, even those I didn’t choose, is that they continue to give me opportunities to practice being thoughtful in my responses and stay poised for all that is possible.