Responding More, Reacting Less
Wednesday - July 1st Scripture to Read for Today's Devotional: James 1:19-20
Today's Selection from our Sermon on the Mount Reading Plan: Matthew 6:25-34
Everyone should be quick to listen,
slow to speak,
and slow to become angry.
Not long ago, I read an article where the author cited statistics about how, in the 21st-century, we react more to life than people did in the 20th-century. While I do not recall the exact statistics, the article used several research projects to back up the claim. According to the article, during the last century, people responded more to situations that stirred their anger or in which people felt threatened than they reacted. New research shows that after two decades into the new century, we have changed in how we respond to things that stir our anger or threaten us. Now, we react more than we respond. The distinction between the two mostly has to do with timing and managing our emotions.
When we react, we give little thought or time to contemplate, hear differing viewpoints, or have conversations with the one who stirs us. When we respond, we express patience, seek understanding, and explore what we may have missed in the thing that has caused us to be stirred up in the first place. It is no wonder that James, the earthly half-brother of Jesus, challenged us that, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (James 1:10). When we either explode or implode by reacting rather than giving ourselves time and space to process what disturbed us, we say and do things that hurt others and cause us to live with regret.
Listening is a lost skill. We tend to rush to conclusions and are quick to say the first things that come to our minds when we disagree. Great leaders of history learned the value of responding more and reacting less. Abraham Lincoln famously developed the skill of responding with calmness and thoughtfulness that made his youthful reactionary ways seem so silly. His ability to suppress his gut-desire to hit back verbally at someone who irritated him or made him angry place him in a distinguished class of leaders who accomplished much in a short season of critical leadership.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the Lincoln biography "Team of Rivals," tells about the disciplined practice President Lincoln had when a union general, a cabinet secretary, or a senator said or did something that upset him. Lincoln would sit down and write a scathing, anger-filled letter reacting to what had been done or said. He would then put the letter in a drawer and sometimes put it under his pillow at night. He would then take the letter out the next day, discard it, rip it up, or burn it. After Lincoln's death, historians found many letters like this marked, "Never Sent. Never Signed." He would then sit down and write out a less reactionary letter. He could be clear and strong in his communication without letting his anger get in the way of what he wanted to convey.
He responded more and reacted less. He was quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow in getting angry. How about you? Do you tend to react more than you respond? Do your quick, thoughtless words hurt others and cause you to regret it?
The article I referenced at the beginning of this devotional that says we react much more in the 21st-century than we did in the 20th-century lays the blame for this inadequate means of communicating on social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even email allow us to fire off a fiery tirade to others without even pausing to consider how our words and attitude might cause more trouble than we might want. Instead of immediately replying to that post that stirred you up, wait until the next day. If you are concerned, you might forget to reply the next day, that is the point. Maybe you did not need to engage in that exchange or not in the way you would react. Don't let a quick rash reaction of anger rob you of having a thoughtful and helpful response.
It is too easy today to react to others rather than respond to them!