One of the best skills you can ever develop as a human being is the fine art of acting instead of reacting.
This is one of those things you learn more and more as you get older, if you’re willing to listen to life’s lessons sent your way. A professor in college used to say this, and I’d just sit there thinking, “WHAT EXACTLY IS THAT SUPPOSED TO EVEN MEAN?”
Years later, I think I finally get it, and it’s a lesson well worth grasping.
Well, let’s talk about it, in plain English.
What Does it Mean to React?
Someone who reacts is someone who is always responding to what is going on around them.
On the outset, this may not seem to be a bad thing. In fact, many times we are compelled to respond to those things that are important to us, which I’ll get into in a moment. Reacting can be either a good or a bad thing, but most of the time it’s bad.
Reacting can be bad when you are constantly responding to everything out there. After a while, instead of being guided by what is important to you (that is, your core values and goals), you’re just letting everyone and everything yank your chain. You’re being trolled. You are letting yourself be rattled by everything but what is important to you.Reacting is bad when you are constantly responding w/o forethought (acting). Click To Tweet
For example, if you find yourself constantly flipping out over whatever social issue is going on around you, especially if it’s not something you can actually affect any positive change concerning, you are reacting. You’re basically being trolled by others with an agenda that riles you up.
You’re wasting energy and resources that could be used on something more productive. Knock it off.reacting = being trolled by others with an agenda that riles you up. Click To Tweet
Acting is Purposeful
On the other hand, someone who acts instead of reacts is someone living life on purpose. I have talked about productivity and focusing on what is important to you. This is part of that topic.
When you have already decided what is and is not important to you, and what you want to focus your time and energy on, you can more easily ignore all of the trolling that goes on in social media and politics. You acknowledge something is going on, but you also put on your big girl panties, recognize you can’t add anything productive to the situation, and so you carry on. You may even find a way to use this in a positive way in your life and the lives of others.
Someone who reacts is not in control of how things affect them because they allow everything to bombard and affect them. Someone who has chosen to act instead has already decided beforehand through a personal mission statement and goals what things they are going to concern themselves with, and so they actively choose not to be bombarded and affected by the twaddle and trolling of life’s big mouths.
Acting vs. Reacting in Action
So, what does this look like in real life situations?
If I hear about some socio-political issue that is totally out of my control, I don’t waste my time and emotional energy freaking out. I may pray about it and if it’s really bad, I write to my elected leaders, and then I move on with what I already decided ahead of time to be concerned about in my goals and personal mission statement: being a blessing and an encouragement to others and glorifying God with Christlikeness are two items near the top of that list.
In keeping with those items on my missions statement, I also don’t allow myself to be upset by co-workers at any job or volunteer organization who are in a tizzy about whatever perceived unfairness they are dealing with unless I’m in a position to do something about it. If the complaining is getting really bad, I sometimes will say, “Oh, well let’s go talk to them right now and clear this up!” Usually, all further gossip is not done anywhere near me, and my life becomes more peaceful, or else we really do productively deal with the situation like adults. This falls under the category of being a blessing. No one wants to listen to complaining, and no one is helped by issues that are not dealt with head on.
If however I hear about some humanitarian crisis going on that I might be able to help with, if I have the means to help I do. This is part of being a blessing and an encouragement. Normally, though, my guiding core principle is to be a blessing and an encouragement to those that are closest to me in our geographic location and sphere of influence. I don’t generally, as a core principle, like to just throw cash at problems to ease my own conscience.
So, if I’m in line at the grocery store and there’s a lady in line in front of me who doesn’t have enough money on her EBT card or in her wallet for her groceries, and she’s trying to figure out if she should keep the diapers or the formula, or the dog food…guess what? I’m not rich either, but I want to be a blessing, and I want to be Christlike, so I have in the past and will continue to as God provides pay for her groceries. I will attempt to encourage her that we’ve been there, and God has graciously brought us through. And I will encourage her that when she comes out on the other end, go out and be a blessing to others too.
A few weeks ago on the same day, hubby paid for a tank of gas for a single mom in need that he met at the gas station (in tears with a nearly empty tank and five dollars in her pocket) and I paid for the groceries of an elderly couple who were short at the store. I say that not to be a braggart, but to just remind us all that if our goal is Christ-likeness, God sends so many opportunities like this to us and we usually miss it because we’re still distracted by some culture war issue we’re still riled up about. Instead, we’ve sent money that could be used productively to some politician or political activist organization in our reaction.
That kind of acting is so much more peaceful and productive to my own heart, the emotions of others, and the cause of Christ than reacting to nonsense and freaking out about things outside of my control.