Vs. I – Response vs. Reaction

Yesterday was a very dark day for the world. On 9/11/01, a few thousand people died in New York and on two other locations where terrorists used planes as weapons. Yesterday 129 died in Paris. Surely the number of people personally affected by 9/11 was more than Paris. And surely the various attacks that have been undertaken in the name of an ideal add up to make Paris look like a tea party. You cannot quantify tragedy. Just that it happened, that (1) there are people whose ideologies are so deeply ingrained in their psyches that they’d commit such acts, (2) that there are things going on in the world that the killers themselves see as so horrific that they consider their own subsequent acts as justifiable, and (3) that there are governments that are determined to continue the status quo no matter what the cost in the wake of these events, which pretty much puts the world in a continual spiral toward total obliteration…well…it kind of makes a blogger lose his train of thought.

This refusal to let go of one’s ideologies, when it refers to religion (the root cause of so much strife in the world) is referred to as religiaholism. Addiction to one’s belief systems and the inability to let them go regardless of evidence presented to the contrary, regardless of the outcome of such stubbornness. Also known as fundamentalism. But it is not always restricted to religion. An ideology is an ideology. They are tattooed in the collective consciousness of humanity, often to negative and unsettling ends, as we’ve seen this weekend.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about words. This seems like a reasonable place to begin a series of posts on words with subtle but important differences. This one is Response vs. Reaction. This is one of the most indelible lessons I learned with interactions with a Hindu practitioner of the Samkhya philosophy who I met at my temple in 2010. There are various ways you could define both response and reaction. To me, reaction is of the emotions, and response is of the intellect. Response is objective to various facets of the situation. Reaction often comes along with a pre-decided assessment of the situation.

Which one sounds more healthy? Which one sounds like it will provide the world with the more productive outcome to the Paris situation? Which one do you think we will get from those whose decisions will ultimately color the outcome?

As a universal household, our reaction/response to what happened in Paris has potential to be just as fundamentalist, just as religiaholic as the acts we are reacting/responding to.  In fact we’ve seen it happen over and over and over again. Or our actions can come from a place of intellect. But one thing we can’t forget is that emotion isn’t purely heart-driven and intellect isn’t just the brain. After we’ve used our intellect to help determine the best course of action, our actions can be guided by the heart. Because this may be yet world-wide situation where no course of action is possible whereby no damage will be done. But guided by the heart, it can be minimized.

Auṃ pūrṇamadaḥ pūrṇamidam pūrṇāt pūrṇamudacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāvaśiṣyate
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ!
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