Wise Warriors respond, not react
We're all human (although there are probably a few who would prefer to be shape-shifters, vampires, aliens, or elves.) With our human-ness comes emotions. With messy emotions come Reactions and Responses.
As authors, it's important to get into a character's head and understand their emotions - so we can create characters that readers can related to and bond with. But it's also important to understand the difference between Reactions and the two types of Responses. The late, great Terry Pratchett used to call them First thoughts, Second thoughts and Third thoughts.
A large percentage of the world lives immersed in their First thoughts, reacting to every event like human pingpong balls. Someone cut me off in traffic? Anger. Frustration. School shooting? Guilt. Fear. Concern. Anger. Winning first prize? Pride, joy, excitement.
We all have Reactions and trying to suppress them is like deliberately hitting your own hand with a hammer - painful, counterproductive, and quite stupid.
The trick is: what you DO with your reactions.
Second thoughts are your choices made as a result of your Reactions. They're your Responses to the event. They're what you do to improve how you feel immediately after something happens. Cut off in traffic: Anger. Frustration = flip the bird, yell, sideswipe, accident. School shooting: Guilt, fear, anger = thoughts and prayers (wtf?), inaction, protests, lobbying, othering of those who disagree with you. (Or, if you're writing a story, your character's response might be to go on the warpath for revenge). Winning first prize: Pride, joy, excitement = go call your mum, get drunk with your mates, post a selfie on Instagram.
But dig deeper, into Third Thoughts. This is where you start to use the bloody enormous brain. to recognise your Reaction, and let it go. Then you recognise what your normal Response would be to the situation and see it as a reflection of who you are NOW as a person. Then you decide what sort of person you would LIKE TO BE, and Respond as you imagine they would.
Cut off in traffic? Reaction: Anger. Frustration. First Response: desire to yell and flip the bird. Considered/Compassionate Response: Perhaps that poor bugger is really late for a make-or-break meeting. Open some space up and wave him in. What have you lost, really, but about 2 seconds of time sitting in traffic.
So it's a three stage growth process. First, recognise if you're stuck in your Reaction loop - feeling the reactions and never separating or letting them go; just wallowing. Then recognise whether your Responses are stupid, selfish, or counterproductive. And see what that reveals about who you are NOW. Then work out what Responses are more appropriate for the person you WANT to be.
And yes, sometimes the considered/compassionate response DOES mean standing up for what's right. It does not mean you're a doormat.
If you're an author, work out where each of your characters sit on the continuum of Reaction and Responses. That will help determine what their choices will be when you throw them in the deep end and pile obstacles in front of them.
And who knows, you might even work out where you sit on that continuum as well.
Aiki Flinthart Feb 2018
Leave a Reply.
I live in Australia - which tells you I have a sense of humour. We're a self-deprecating people, we Aussies. My aim is to, one day, vanish in a blinding flash of enlightenment. In the mean time, I'm doing my best to learn as many