newtons-cradle-256213_640What a wild ride the past few weeks have been. I haven’t written since May 27th, and while I could blame the gap on being busy (who hasn’t been?), the truth is I just haven’t been able to find the words. So much has happened in our country this year that has shaped each of our lives. Every one of us has found ourselves thinking, and speaking, and acting in ways we never thought we would. It’s frightening how quickly things can change – and just as scary to realize how quickly we get used to the chaos.

We’re living through a time of unprecedented change. There’s a pandemic impacting the way we interact and do business. Racial tensions have reached a boiling point. Our economy is being stressed beyond belief. The political climate is as raw as it’s ever been. It’s as if we’re standing in the eye of a hurricane, watching everything around us crash and burn and disintegrate.

There’s so much we can’t control; but there’s one thing we can – how we act.

Regardless of what’s going on around us, it’s always been our decisions that have the biggest impact on our future. How we choose to behave in times of uncertainty ultimately determines the outcomes we face. Leaders act with intention. Now, more than ever, we have to be mindful of the steps we take and the implications our deeds have on those around us.

Dr. Matthew B James, president of The Empowerment Partnership in Hawaii, suggests that we practice the art of responding rather than reacting. In an article for Psychology Today, he explains the difference.

“A reaction is instant. It’s driven by the beliefs, biases, and prejudices of the unconscious mind. When you say or do something ‘without thinking,’ that’s the unconscious mind running the show. A reaction is based in the moment and doesn’t take into consideration long term effects of what you do or say. A reaction is survival-oriented and on some level a defense mechanism. It might turn out okay but often a reaction is something you regret later.

A response on the other hand usually comes more slowly. It’s based on information from both the conscious and unconscious mind. A response will be more ‘ecological,’ meaning that it takes into consideration the well-being of not only you but those around you. It weighs the long term effects and stays in line with your core values.

We all know the difference. The point is that the more reacting we do, the less empowered we are. We’re operating from underlying assumptions and beliefs we’re not even aware of. And the results of doing that are somewhere between horrendous and less than stellar.”

As I look back in time and examine my own behavior, it’s easy to see where I’ve reacted and where I’ve responded. Without exception, I’m prouder of my behavior when I take the time to respond. It isn’t easy – the temptation to do or say something in the moment can be overwhelming at times.

We’re not quite half-way through 2020. Who knows what the rest of the year will bring? I imagine there are plenty of stressful events to come. Here’s hoping we’ll choose to respond appropriately.