Updated: Feb 6
“What happens to us in life is less important than how we respond to what happens to us.” – Viktor Frankl
Have you ever asked someone a question, only to watch them erupt in anger?
“Hi, Honey. Did you remember to pick up the dry cleaning?”
“Dry cleaning?! Like I don’t have enough to do already! I pick up after you! The kids! Shopping! Washing clothes! Dishes! It never ends! Do you think I was put on this Earth to pick up after you? Am I some sort of maid?! Am I your servant?! Huh?! Well, am I?!”
Anyway, I think you get the point.
In Alcoholics Anonymous they suggest that you “pay attention to the people, places, and things you surround yourself with”. Why? Because people, places, and things are stimuli. And things that stimulate us cause us to react. Cause and effect; cause is a stimulus, and effect is our reaction.
Notice I didn’t say “response”. People, places, and things (our environment) regulate our behavior. Positive people, places, and things tend to trigger happy reactions. Conversely, negative people, places, and things tend to trigger unhappy reactions.
Reactions are typically emotion-based. Responses are typically logic-based.
Reactions are automatic and habitual. Responses are not automatic but can become habitual if you practice them. Think of the word “responsibility”; are you ‘able’ to ‘respond’ to life’s trials and tribulations? If you are, it is because you made it a priority to be responsible vs irresponsible.
Is it easy to be kind to someone who is kind to you? I would say yes.
But wouldn’t you agree that when a person is behaving badly, it is a lot more challenging to carefully and thoughtfully choose your responses? Isn’t it a whole lot easier just to react right back? The trouble is anger begets anger. Reactions can destroy trust and relationships, but trained empathetic, compassionate thoughtful responses have the power to build trust and strengthen relationships. Thankfully, responses can be learned and practiced.
Here is an example: Every single day in America, an animal is struck by a moving vehicle. Often, the animal dies on impact. But other times the animal is merely injured. The animal is hurt and deeply confused, but most of all, it is scared. Environment will do that to us. Living can be frightening. Everyone is told that if you hit an animal, be careful approaching because it may attack you. The animal is in survival mode and just trying to protect itself.
Now, after approaching the animal, do you take it personally if it snarls and snaps at you? Of course not. You know it is in shock and you know what its been through.
But often it’s different when it comes to our loved ones. If they snarl at us, bark at us, it is our automatic reaction to snarl and bark right back. In fact, if a person continues to behave offensively, it is our natural thought to blame them, not the people, places, and things they are dealing with in their own lives.
Our default has a name. It’s called Fundamental Attribution Error. It means that we tend to attribute bad behavior to being caused by being a bad person. We don’t consider the situations and events the person experienced prior to his or her interaction with us.
Every day since the day we were born we create habits to react to the events that occur in our lives. Many times, we react badly. We react badly and then justify the bad behavior because we feel we are right, and others are wrong – or somehow wronged us.
Here’s the thing: no one is ever just right or just wrong. Nothing is that black and white. Responsibility is our skillset to choose the right response to the people, places, and things with which we surround ourselves. If you are merely reacting to life, not responding, chances are you are hurting someone.
When watching the behavior of those around you, ask yourself a question. Does it seem like they are stuck in reaction mode or are they response-able? All reacting to a reactionary person does is cause a literal chain reaction.
Remember: Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we choose to respond. Don’t let reactions get in your way from living the best life with those you love.
About Fred Cuellar:
Fred Cuellar has distinguished himself in various fields. He is one of the world's top diamond experts, a three time Guinness Book record holder in jewelry design, a consultant to investment and financial firms, and a best-selling author. His clients include the Dallas Cowboys, the Denver Broncos, the Detroit Redwings, plus celebrities associated with Lionsgate and the Rubik's Brand. His personal commitment to making a difference in people's lives has taken him on a journey into the world of obesity, and his discoveries not only saved his life but can save yours.
Fred is a 2020 Thought Leader on Best Ever You.