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Reactions Matter

Just recently, my husband, teenage stepson and I traveled to see my mom and stepdad in southern Arizona over spring break. Here’s a Facebook post I crafted the day after we were set to fly out of Missoula:

Have you ever gone to the airport only to discover that your home-printed boarding passes don’t scan at the security check-point and when you go the ticket counter to have them re-printed get told that your plane has been delayed two hours, so you decide to wait rather than have the same friend who just dropped you off come back to get you, only to find that a two hour delay really means 3 1/2, and when your plane finally does come in it turns out that it was making some weird noises on the way there and has to be checked out by a mechanic who will take about an hour to drive in from town to look it over, who determines the craft is unfit for air travel and will require a second specialized mechanic who they’ll have to fly in (hopefully on a more sound jet) so your flight, which was supposed to leave at 8:00pm, gets cancelled after waiting in the airport for 5 hours? Yeah, me neither.

I had written this post as a funny commentary, but instead people clicked the tearful-faced icon under the “like” options, indicating that they were saddened on our behalf. Then, when we finally arrived in Arizona, some of my mom’s friends that we met, who had heard tale of our flight ordeal, also seemed to be mildly upset on our behalf. But the thing of it was: we weren’t negatively phased by it at all! It was other people who were bothered by our flight delay and cancellation, not us. This got me to thinking about the importance of monitoring our physical reactions to external situations that arise. It’s very easy to put our own thoughts and feelings onto other people by way of how we react when hearing certain information or news being shared. And what we don’t often realize is that our reactions can fuel unskillful results.

For example:

Katie: Gosh, I’ve had a hard day. I got a flat tire on my way to work and then I was reprimanded for something that wasn’t even my fault – and then when I got home my new puppy had made a mess of the kitchen.

Julie: Oh, that’s awful! You poor thing! What terrible news! I’m sooo sorry to hear that!

Katie: Yeah, it was a pretty bad day. I can’t wait to put it out of its misery!

There’s a common tendency, from Julie’s reaction, to not only have unskillfully validated but exacerbated Katie’s hard day, in a negative fashion. While Katie may have simply wanted to share about her hard day with a close friend, Julie’s heightened, dramatic reaction may lead to Katie feeling even worse after their interaction – as a sort of woe-is-me situation gets fostered.

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