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Why You Should Respond And Not React

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Anger and outrage seem to drive nearly every conversation nowadays. From the boardroom to the living room, few discussions are without genesis in grievance, offense, or a desire for revenge.

You have no doubt observed this floating hostility yourself. What may be called the hysterical style seems to dominate modern discourse. Ban, bar, boycott, censor, circumscribe, shut down—these seem to be the ever-present themes of the day. It’s not enough to criticize someone else’s position or object to it; the person must be castigated, injured, made to feel pain of some kind.

We live, increasingly, in a reactionary age. People can no longer take in information, ponder over it, and decide what they think. Snap judgments based on the most aggressive impulses seem to determine the opinions and actions of the proverbial man on the street.

There may be something to the commonly-held notion that our minds are daily saturated with news and information from a variety of virtual sites designed to put us on edge about something or other. A much better explanation, I think, is the constitution of modern society. We have never lived in a world like this. It is crowded and cramped—even those living in gated communities must deal with the daily grind of traffic—and we are forced to live and work in close proximity with people from a wide variety of racial, religious, social, and, ideological backgrounds.

We are also hurried in a way that is unprecedented. Every day is filled with tasks and chores that seem unending. We are forced to run from place to place all the while monitoring our emails and text messages to ensure we are on top of new tasks that may pop up.

This busy, high pressure, over strenuous environment is bound to depress our powers of reason and rationality while encouraging our instincts of aggression and violence. The latter two can manifest in ways beyond the physical. The impulse to be confrontational and rude over the most trivial matters, the desire to demonize and destroy individuals and institutions that do not share your values, the compulsion to get your own way regardless of the harm done to others—these are just a few of the ways in which a pathology of anger and hostility can be discharged.

That is why you should train yourself to respond rather than react. Doing so will set you apart from many of your peers and colleagues. Refuse to be goaded and provoked. Don’t take the bait—much of it purposefully designed to get an angry and unbalanced backlash—on Facebook, in business meetings, in conversation with friends and associates with whom you have differences.

Reaction involves action that gratifies the emotion of the moment. Response comes after clear and logical reasoning. It is the result of calm and composure, of the careful weighing and judging of things.

Does that mean you must delay all action for days until you’ve reached a rational position? Not necessarily. The more familiar you are with an issue the less time it will take to respond properly to it. The point here is to resist the temptation to fly off the handle at every perceived slight and injustice. Such behavior is rarely limited to angry rants on Facebook or in the CiF spaces on news sites. If you are in the habit of doing that sort of thing in the virtual world, you are probably doing it in face-to-face encounters—in a different way.

Save your friendships and your career. Be the one person that isn’t constantly resentful and complaining about the world. Learn how to respond and not react.

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About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.

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