Reaction And Response
June 1, 2020
When I was young, in India, we used to have street dogs roaming around the colony where I used to live. A few kids in the neighborhood would instigate the street dogs for sadistic pleasure by feigning to throw stones at the dogs. Every time they would do that, the dogs would bark incessantly, even though there was never was any stone thrown at them. The kids would do this any number of times, and the dogs would keep barking every time. A Dog is considered one of more prescient creatures of the animal kingdom believed to have the intelligence of an average two-year child. But in the main, it is still an animal. Given a particular stimulus, the reaction of the street dog would always be the same. It would bark. A street dog does not have any intelligence.
My Son has a habit of biting nails from when he was maybe 4 or 5 years old. The first time I noticed him biting his nails, I got irritated and reacted angrily, “Don’t bite your nails. It’s a bad habit.” The first time that happened, my reptilian brain reacted. Now, after 20 years, if the same thing that my Son does irritates me, and I continue reacting the same way, what is the conclusion?
As humans, we are endowed with intelligence.
When I see my Son biting his nails, I don’t have to react. I have a choice of responses to take. I can walk into another room. I can close my eyes. I can read a book. I can distract myself or my Son by giving him some task that forces him to get his fingers out of his mouth. I have, as an intelligent human being, a range of options to respond beyond getting irritated and losing my composure.
I am just giving this as an illustration. Think of all the things we do instinctively. Someone cuts in front of your car, and you go red in the face, angry and abusive. A team member is weak in some areas, and instead of focusing on the strengths, you focus on the weakness and make the person miserable. A colleague sends an email suggesting that you did not do something, you get all indignant and pick up an email battle about who is right.
What differentiates us from animals is our intelligence and ability to exercise a conscious choice that goes beyond animalistic responses whenever we encounter anything in our life that threatens to derail our peace.
I don’t tire of reminding myself of this timeless pearl of wisdom by Viktor Frankl-“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”