Don’t React. Choose Your Response.

We are in the midst a global pandemic, a resurgence of activism for racial justice, more unknown and uncertainty in our individual and collective lives than many of us have ever experienced, and heading into the most divisive presidential election in any of our life times. How do we navigate the world in all its complexity without losing ourselves to reactivity or feeling out of control and tempted to give up?

Below is one of my favorite lessons from my oldest daughter when she was seven years old about not reacting, but choosing your response.

Let’s be clear she learned this lesson from social emotional curriculum at school and not from me. Her lesson reminded me of lessons from Buddhist teachings from the Dalai Lama, Kathy Obear’s social justice work on navigating triggers, and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s wisdom.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor Frankl


I used to think that to be smart in this world, I needed to learn new things. Being the parent of very small children taught me that to be wise, I need to unlearn much of what I have learned. How do we unlearn the internalized oppression from our socialization; the armor and walls we have developed to protect us from our hurts, pains, and traumas; the patterns and habits that once kept us safe that no longer serve us?

Control vs Agency

This aligns with perhaps the most valuable learning I’ve had stemming from Buddhist teacher Adyashanti to differentiate between letting go of the illusion of control and focusing on claiming more of our agency.

How can I give up as much control as possible over what is beyond me & simultaneously claim as much agency as possible over what is within me?

Above the Line or Below the Line

A good friend shared this video about being above the line and below the line about a year ago. I’ve thought of this numerous times since. I find it a helpful distinction of many different thoughts and emotions all boiled down to two states of being.

To Me vs By Me

This video, also by the Conscious Leadership Group about content vs context and living life with a “to me” vs “by me” perspective can also be helpful.

Cultures of Fear and Scarcity

In the video above they refer to cultures of fear and scarcity. In my consulting work, I get to spend brief but intense times with many different teams. The most striking difference is between organizations that have a culture of fear and scarcity and those that do not. In a culture of fear and scarcity creativity and innovation do not happen. Rather than suggest something new or brilliant or risky or innovative, people keep their heads down and do whatever they can to not be the brunt of consequences (formal and informal). Cultures of fear and scarcity can come from the top down from leaders who try and use threats as leadership tools (often because they are so afraid themselves).

Cultures of fear and scarcity can also come bottom up from people in the organization who use constant critique and criticism to avoid having to take any action, responsibility, or accountability. Critique grounded in ego (proving how smart I am) is very different from critique to better serve others (how can we make this better). Blame is not accountability. Blame is rooted in the need to be right. What about discovering what is to be learned here, personally and collectively?

Anger is what pain and fear often look like when they show themselves in public.

Krista Tippett

Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.

Maria Popova, Brainpickings

Grudges Are Wasted Energy

Years ago a trusted colleague shared that his team was reading a book about honesty and conflict as a group and stumbled upon the wisdom that grudges are wasted energy. I forget the name of the book, but I think of this often, particularly in guiding my coaching clients.

Often conflicts come up that create significant emotion and energy. It often boils down to a powerful but simple choice: either let it go OR have the tough conversation. The trick is that most of us don’t want to have the difficult conversation, so we convince ourselves and others that we have let it go. We likely would love to let it go. But when we can’t truly let it go, the conflict festers into resentment, often with the other person having no idea there even is a conflict at all.

If you are I are in conflict: I can let it go or we can have the tough conversation. Not letting it go and not having the conversation isn’t fair to you and it isn’t fair to me.

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

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