Ripples

Honestly, I’ve been struggling with this post.  My efforts to convey this idea of ‘Not Being a Spaz’ clearly and succinctly have been falling short.  Perhaps it is because of all the tenets, this is the one I struggle with the most.

We react as human beings; to outside stimuli, and to our innermost thoughts and fears.  It’s what we do.  It is innate, instinctual, and it is survival in its most fundamental form.  Look at nature; plants react to sunshine and rain, animals react to impending danger and hunger, the universe itself reacts to gravity and other physical forces.  Reaction is as important as it is basic, but appropriate reaction is crucial to keeping the whole thing spinning.

The image that best demonstrates what I mean by appropriate reaction that I’ve found is of ripples in the water.  How does water react when its surface is disturbed?  Appropriately.  If you throw a small pebble into a still pond, the water will respond with small ripples which dissipate quickly.  If you throw a large stone into a pond the ripples are larger and it takes longer for the surface of the water to return to its serene, undisturbed state.

So how many times has someone thrown a “small pebble” into your pond, and you’ve reacted with large ripples, or even waves?  I do it everyday, and I’ve realized that my responses are rooted in selfishness.  If a co-worker calls out sick, or if my child tells me that they wet their bed, my mind immediately jumps to all of the ways it will affect me.  Eventually the ripples will subside and I can put my co-worker’s sick day in perspective, or understand the courage that it must have taken my child to tell me they wet their bed, rather than hide the soggy evidence.  But by then it is usually too late; I’ve already unleashed the tsunami of my inappropriate reaction.

I’ve rationalized my overreaction by claiming that it was honest, and that I shouldn’t have to apologize for an honest response.  But my so-called “honest response” wasn’t to the circumstances, I was reacting to their effect on me, and the perceived extra work they would cause me, and thereby unfair, uncalled for, and ultimately dishonest.  And even more dangerously, when I allow this kind of selfishness to be my default setting, my reactions can then be amplified because I am likely aware on some level that I am acting selfishly and I hate that about myself.

So how do we not be a spaz?  The selfishness I feel at the root of my overreactions can be opposed by one thing: Empathy.  Now for those of us who don’t have an ‘Empathize Now, React Later’ button in our default settings, we need to train ourselves to stop our reaction before it starts and take a moment to think about the situation, the other people involved, and not simply how it affects us.  Pretty self-explanatory and we all know it, but we have to make it a habit, which takes time, practice, and patience with ourselves.  Think progress, not perfection.

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