Respond don’t react are the wise words someone told me a while back. We were discussing aggression towards women in uniform- in this case police- something I had witnessed during a first aid shift at a Christmas market a few weeks earlier. A group of men came up and grabbed the police officers when they were briefing us about an ongoing situation. In broad daylight, in the High Street. The men were not known or related to them. It was surprising and shocking - and I wasn't the one being grabbed. The women officers on that occasion chose to respond by not doing anything, saying that doing so would unnecessarily escalate the situation. Sometimes doing nothing can itself be a considered response.

So don’t react but do respond - But what does it mean?

To react is to act on the basis of instinct, and unconscious thought. Reacting is very useful and indeed probably essential to survival, like moving your hand out of a flame, or running away from an assailant. Reacting works, and helps us stay alive.

But in situations that are nuanced, more interpersonal- where they are not yet about life or death- it is useful to check in and respond rather than react. Responding means putting in place a feedback loop, a quick check - how will this play out, is this in line with my beliefs and values, is this response optimal for the bigger picture? It is the little “stop! wait one” that asks whether we are acting out of unconscious bias, have the whole picture (or at least enough of it). It’s the little pause that enables you to realise that they have a knife, or that they have backup.

It is what enables you to stay alive long enough to win the war, if not this battle. And to an onlooker it may look exactly the same as a reaction.

So if this makes sense on the street or in a situation - how does it translate to everyday work and play? At work it can be to pause and not send that email immediately, to see what others think or say about something. At home it can be the pause when you consider whether this really is a yelling offense from a child or family member, or whether you want to act in a different way.

It can be a case of deciding how you will respond ahead of time - for example if at work in a big team meeting your boss publicly slates your work saying you are late with a project- the instinctive reaction would be to oppose this (perhaps it is blatantly untrue), but perhaps you elect not to do the first time it happens in case it is a one-off bad day for the boss, but if its repeated then yes you do decide to respond. However that response might be to wait and say nothing until after the meeting and then speaking with the Boss privately- but if its still repeated after that then actually interrupting and opposing her publicly in the meeting may be the appropriable response.

Many people dislike these situations- but do consider that they are also very life-affirming and empowering; that deciding how to respond forces you to decide what your boundaries are, what your values and beliefs are, how (and who) you want to be in the world, and what lines just cannot be crossed. And importantly it makes you manifest those boundaries and show up so others see you.

So do REACT- when you need to stay alive. Otherwise: Stop! take a moment to become present and aware of what's going on - to reflect on your values and think it through - and then RESPOND.  Be a badass :)

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