Written by Shreya Karande
Gautam Buddha has rightly said, “Do not learn how to react. Learn how to respond.”
In these words, obscured is the arcanum to a mindful living with evocative and hence thoughtful choices and actions. The essence of life vests in understanding humans and their nature, and failing to understand the complexities of human nature may ultimately result in individuals making poor choices.
Plato once said that human behaviour flows from 3 main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge. Indeed in those words, the quest for reasoning the rational intelligence is accentuated, consequently bearing in mind the pre-eminence of emotional intelligence. It’s a desire for a something that gives birth to an emotion and how we act upon the emotion is our knowledge. The knowledge to be able to choose between reacting and responding. The decision making process is perpetual and the very fact that we subconsciously make so many decisions every single day makes this topic even more prominent. Most of the decisions that we take are choices: a choice to either react or respond to a situation. But why is it important to understand the two choices? Are these two choices of the same cerebral process? How do they affect our actions? These are some of the few questions which come to our mind when we talk of making apprehensive and sentient volitions.
Let us go back to the year of 1979, to the island of Sriharikota, wherein ISRO had a mission to put satellite launch vehicle SLV-3 in the orbit. Nearly thousands of scientists worked for almost 10 years unrelentingly day and night to accomplish their goal. Even after putting their efficient, conscientious and strenuous efforts for the triumph of the mission, the mission failed. Now they had two choices here, the first one being to abort the mission and the second one would have been to bounce back.
The decision was tough as it involved the country’s pride, prestige and money and one more failure would have surely put the organisation in an unsound position. The project and mission director at the time was Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, and he took the prudent decision of bouncing back even after receiving harsh criticism from the world press. Turning the clock exactly a year ahead on July 18, 1980, ISRO was ready again with the same determination and enthusiasm to succeed in the task, and this time and the mission was successful.
The two choices present were not just to abort or continue the mission but were more about reacting or responding. What exactly is it that we mean when we say- react or respond? To explain this let us take one more example wherein you are at a restaurant enjoying your meal and suddenly you see a cockroach on your hand. Now you are scared, agitated and disgusted but you have to act. Whatever action you choose will be determined by whether you choose to react or respond. If you react, you will find yourself in an anguish and may start screaming which may then disturb other people at the restaurant. But if you choose to respond, you would stay calmer and look for the solutions; the ultimate solution that you may see is to placidly take the cockroach away without disturbing the integrity of mind.
The difference between the two lies in the pause or a brief moment of mindful presence. Victor Frankl in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” writes that in every situation, between the situation and the way we respond to it there is a space, in that space we have time to determine whether we are going to react or respond. This space could be a millisecond, one hundredth of second but in that space we can decide how we are going to handle the situation.
Reactions are spontaneous and instinctual that upraise from our subconscious mind. There is no filtering process when you react in a situation, it’s more of an autonomous choice, you’re running on auto-pilot. When you react, you do and say things without thinking first and don’t consider the implications of what you do or say – you just act. Reactions are like a puppy who hasn’t been trained. That untrained puppy is going to bark at every dog it sees, jump at every passing neighbour, whereas a trained puppy will always know when to bark and when to avoid unnecessary fights. A reaction is typically tense, aggressive and provokes more reactions as its more emotion filled.
But when we talk of a response it’s more thoughtful and calculative. To understand this better, there is a story that revolves around an Indian monk. When somebody asked him “What role does luck or destiny play in victory or success? Is it all hard work? Is it all destiny? What is it?” The monk wisely replied, “destiny is the situation that comes to you, and is beyond your control. For example, if someone comes and insults me, I didn’t choose it. This situation of getting insulted by somebody was destined but my response to that situation is my choice. The response is not destiny. What I choose is my choice. And when I choose how to respond, that decides my future destiny.” Wouldn’t we consider ourselves powerful if we had the ability to control and decide our destinies? This is an ability we can learn and procure by carefully observing our actions. Reacting to a situation would give power to the situation and we would remain submissive to our surroundings, but if we choose to respond we keep the power with ourselves and can thence control the future actions.
Bob Proctor, a Canadian author and philosopher, writes in his book – ‘When we are born, we are in an animalistic state. The animal reacts Action-Reaction, it’s either react or respond. In an animalistic state we react, it’s flight or fight. But as we grow and develop consciousness we learn to respond’. Reactions are reflexive and unthoughtful whereas a response is reflective and excitative, It’s not merely a choice but it is a life skill.
The choice is ours and so is the implication. A mindful reception will therefore be a power to prowess.