The weather over this Independence Day in Southern Tennessee was designed to make camping-haters out of anyone who wasn’t already in love with camping. I’m already in love with camping. But, my son is on the fence and my nephew is inexperienced.
We got an extra-generous dose of constant swarms of mosquitoes, torrential downpours, flooded campsites and major lightning and thunderstorms. But, it didn’t rain the whole time.
Wednesday, it was warm and sunny. Really warm. Really, really warm: 96 with a heat index of 114 warm. And the dew point was about 80. So, breathing was enough to make you sweat profusely. I had them hiking all over the place. I had enough layers of sweat and bug spray on to make me ten pounds heavier.
Did I mention I brought my dog along on his first camping trip, too? I did! My pup who, as a boxer, is susceptible to heat problems and is terrified of thunderstorms.
Yes, this trip had all the ingredients of a miserable time.
Except for one thing.
Everyone chose a good attitude. I’m not saying the kids were perfect, they definitely were over the whole getting in and out of the car and walking around the national park long before I was. And I’m not saying I loved every moment of trying to cook dinner and keep a camp stove going with an umbrella in the pouring rain while a scared boxer tried to climb up my leg.
But, we just dealt with it. We all looked beyond the circumstances and chose our response. What makes me even more proud of them for it, is that I never (not even once) had to tell them to choose a good attitude.
And we had a great time. Air conditioning and a dry change of clothes felt really good by the time we got home, but the trip was a really fun adventure instead of an ordeal. Because we chose to treat it that way.
Choosing your attitude is something we can do in any circumstance. There are enough memes around to remind us that we’re in charge of how we respond to our days. But, I want to take it one step further today. We have the choice in all things to choose to react or respond.
Reacting is automatic. It’s driven from emotion, instinct, past experience, and external circumstances. It usually results in drama, and stress. Responding on the other hand means that you choose. You notice the stimulus or the reaction and you choose a (hopefully better) response.
We react out of instinct all day long. We react to drivers who cut us off in traffic. We react to a perceived insult from a coworker. We react to a smell that takes us back to middle school. We react to a phone call that interrupts our train of thought. We react to a social media post of someone with an opposing viewpoint. We react to a bug bite. We react to a food we’ve tried before and not liked. We spend all day reacting. And a lot of what we react to is automatic. Without thought. Without choice. Because if we took the time to choose our responses, they might differ from our automatic reactions.
Let’s say you’re driving on the same road I’m wanting to turn on and I cut you off by pulling out in front of you. Not so close that you have to slam on the brakes and it’s dangerous, but enough to make you slow down a bit and interrupt your traffic flow. How would you react? What if I told you that my grandmother that raised me just died and I’m headed to the funeral home to talk about arrangements for her burial. What if I told you that I was just leaving the vet after putting my dog down. None of those happen to be true today. But, I don’t have the ability to process depth perception like most people. My eyes don’t work together to have binocular depth cues. Only monocular ones like things farther away are smaller. I’ve learned to adapt over the years, and I’m typically extra cautious, but I do make mistakes, especially when I’m tired or distracted. So, it’s entirely possible that I might pull out in front of you, causing you to have to slow down slightly when I thought I had plenty of time, but I accidentally misjudged the distance. My point is that there might be reasons for any given stimulus that might change your perspective of the event.
So. how would you react? Swearing? Irritation? Yelling at me? Disgust? Mild or not so mild commentary on my driving skills? So, if you would react in those ways, what do those responses add to your day? Stress? Drama? Angst? What if you choose to assume it was a mistake? Chose to extend the benefit of the doubt? What if you chose to not respond at all? After all, it’s not something you can change. How would not responding, simply noticing and choosing to move on change the tenor of your drive?
Victor Frankl said, “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.”
What if you stop reacting? What if you choose to respond in a compassionate way? In a way that spread kindness instead of anger? In a way that contributed calm instead of drama? In a way that builds up and encourages instead of tears down and discourages? In a way that you choose instead of in a way circumstances, previous experience, fear or assumptions choose for you?
What if you took control over your reactions?
This week’s piece is about the conflict between reacting and responding. Reacting is the warm colors. The flames of reactions that ignite trouble so easily. The cool blues represent responding and how it has the power to calm situations. For me, it seems, I react about as often as I choose to respond. I want that proportion to change. We’ll talk about how to do that next week!
Want to process the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week’s art on your phone: Episode 40 Downloads