When we encounter a situation, we need to recognize whether we are reacting or responding. It is easy to confuse the two, but they differ in important ways.
A reaction usually involves an assessment – e.g., “She’s going to fall and get hurt dancing on the railing like that” or “Um, he’s in no condition to drive after beer pong.” You’re probably right, but so far, you’re only reacting.
A response turns you from a spectator into a participant. A response is a choice, requiring purposeful action and, often, a degree of courage. A response is taking action to change things; it has no time for bystanders.
The react vs. respond difference applies to all kinds of situations in life: helping hurricane victims (not just sympathizing), getting help for a tough class (not just struggling and hoping for the best), starting that exercise plan (instead of watching the scale creep up) and yes, intervening to keep someone from getting hurt at a party (not just observing).
Another weekend is here. Use it as an opportunity to respond to a situation where, so far, you have just been reacting. You will feel that much more empowered. And as always: Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. And if you see something heading in a bad direction, step in and make the difference.
Gerard P. Clancy, M.D.
The University of Tulsa