08 March 2011

Acting, or Reacting?

I’ve spent much of my life being a reactive person.  I’ve done many things in my life that were directly caused by someone else’s actions, rather than my own inner guidance concerning what I should or shouldn’t do.  In other words, my actions weren’t really actions at all, but reactions.  And usually, they’ve been pretty negative from the very start, as I never really gave myself a chance to consider carefully what I truly wanted to do.  I’ve hurt other people with my words and actions, and I’ve caused stress and strife for others.  Not tons of it, but more than I would have liked.

One of the most important things that I’ve learned in life is to stop reacting to other people’s actions and words and inaction.  I’ve become much better at just watching and not trying to fix things or make them better or to defend myself when no defense is really needed.  Now that I consider my actions more carefully (usually, of course–I’m still not there completely!), I’m able to act in ways that I truly see as fit and appropriate.  And as my actions are more carefully considered, I don’t do things that stress me out or that cause me negative results.  And my life is much freer and easier when I’m not going along complicating it with my poor reactions.

We can see a really good analogy in sports when it comes to penalties.  If a player does something dirty and hits another player, and that player retaliates, guess who gets called for the penalty?  Almost always, it’s the person who reacts with retaliation.  This is a purely reactive response, and it has negative results for the person who has reacted.  There are penalties involved that hurt the entire team, not just the one player, and that never is a good thing.

So if someone does something that I see as negative to me, how do I react?  Or, a better question is, do I even react at all?  I’ve come to learn over time that most negative actions are due to someone else’s poor self-esteem or lack of confidence, and most reactions don’t really accomplish much of anything at all.  By not reacting, I can choose to let something lie, to allow the water to calm down rather than stirring it up anew with my own negative response.

Recently someone criticized something that I had done, and I was kind of stymied by what she said.  My first impulse was to be defensive–to say something back to her that would make her feel bad for what she had said.  Instead, I waited a few moments to gather my thoughts, and then I asked her, “What makes you say that?”  It turned out that she had completely misunderstood what I had done, and was reacting to what she thought I had done rather than what I really had done.  I was glad that I hadn’t followed my first impulse to react, for taking the time to think of an appropriate action (asking for clarification) had helped us both to get much more out of the situation, and we didn’t harbor any ill feelings towards each other.

I’m not quite sure where I learned to be defensive rather than productive, but I really am happy that it’s something that I seem to be outgrowing.  Life’s much more fun and much less stressful when we consider our actions carefully, without letting others push us into reactions that we may not feel too good about later.

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