Episode 1. Knee Jerk Reactions
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When something unexpected comes our way – a curved ball from left field – our first instinct is to have a knee jerk reaction. But reactions aren’t always the best thing to have… Join …
When something unexpected comes our way – a curved ball from left field – our first instinct is to have a knee jerk reaction. But reactions aren’t always the best thing to have …
Last week on A Different Perspective, and again this week, we’re looking at ‘Bringing out Your Very Best’, a sort of basic, fundamental life-skill where we often have gaps in our knowledge and our experience. Last week, we looked at a few subjects like dealing with our blind spots, learning to communicate and collaborate, learning to listen, investing in relationships.
These are such important skills in getting on with people. For me, I had to learn these things the hard way. For seventeen years, I worked as a consultant in the information technology industry, over 200 over organisations. And when I started out in this consulting game, I struggled through these things, and the last place that I expected to find any answers was in the whole Christianity religion, Bible space. Eck! And it was a surprise to me when I met this Jesus that the Bible – even though for me was a historical document that frankly, rated very low in my trust – actually works through real life things like this.
What about our reactions? What about the pedestrian who is in the wrong, or the person who is driving who is in the wrong? And when someone who blows their horn at them, they are the ones – the ones who are in the wrong – who end up hurling abuse at people. Sometimes we have knee-jerk reactions, not just in a car honking our horn, but in life generally.
When something different, something unexpected, something comes out at us at left field and we find it disturbing or threatening or hurtful, or we just don’t understand it, we can react badly to those sorts of things. In the workplace, I’ve often seen people send an angry e-mail. I have a very important rule when it comes to e-mail.
I never send an e-mail when I’m angry because so often, people will send an angry e-mail in a knee-jerk reaction, and afterwards, they regret it because afterwards, you realise an e-mail is not like a conversation – you speak and it’s gone – an e-mail is on the record. An e-mail can be printed, copied, sent to other people. So many people send angry e-mails and live to regret it. I’ve seen it in the workplace, at meetings, you have different people from different departments with different needs and ambitions and hidden agendas.
I’ve been to some very brutal business meetings where people are angry and they’re knee-jerk reacting to things. Or you know, those family functions, at Christmas, when the extended family gets together and people see some issue differently, and the whole thing ends up in a row. The knee-jerk reaction thing is an everyday occurrence. Just have a look around over the next 24 hours, at home or at work. Where are people reacting, both us and other people? And how small sometimes are the things we have a knee-jerk reaction to?
There’s been a puzzling verse in the Bible that I’ve agonised over for a long time. It’s in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. If you’re interested, it’s in Chapter 4, verse 26. Paul says, “Be angry, but do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Be angry but do not sin. I think, “Okay, at least he acknowledges the reality that we will get angry.” It is a reality.
When something surprises us or hurts us or offends us, inside of each one of us the blood boils. God acknowledges that reality. When people feel threatened, they react. When we feel threatened, we react. Well let’s look at the two sides of that coin. Let’s look at us reacting, and then other people reacting.
Us, what are the things that push your button? What are the things that set you off? I know what sets me off. I’m someone who is very time-focused. I love to have my time organised, and when I’m dealing with someone who is consistently late, someone who consistently moves slow, someone who doesn’t have a sense of urgency, let me tell you something – that drives me nuts.
We all have the things that set us off – at work, at our home. What is it for you? Is it maybe someone who just has a different point of view, and that sets you off or somebody who behaves differently? How could we be angry but not sin? Over the years, anger has been a real problem for me. Anger has been something that I’ve had to learn to control.
So here’s how I deal with things when they set me off. I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t always have to win. It is not important for Berni Dymet to get the last say and to get his way each time. The second thing is that I used to get very suspicious of people. I’ve decided that I’m going to think the best of people. Rather than be suspicious, I’m going to think the best, and when they make a mistake, still think the best of them.
And when I just can’t, when I am just so driven to a frenzy because I am so angry – you know what I’m talking about – I’ve decided, like with the e-mails, to button my lip until the initial anger subsides. Button my lip. Be angry, but do not sin. We all get angry; sin is about hurling a rock when we are. And in that time, in that space that I give myself, that I buy myself by buttoning my lip, I’ve decided to think it through.
Knee-jerk reactions damage relationships, but if we just stop, if we take that space, we buy some time for ourselves and process what has just happened. We process the fact that, “Okay, this person has behaved that way but then again, that’s them”. Then again, maybe no one ever told them about knee-jerk reactions, maybe no one ever taught them to buy a little bit of space and a little bit of time, and process this without hurling a rock as a first reaction.
When I buy time and I buy space and I think it through, you know something? I tend, not always but most of the time, to come up with a better approach, a more measured approach. Be angry, but don’t throw a rock. Be angry but don’t let the sun go down; don’t hold on to this anger and what about when someone else reacts? Most people haven’t been taught the stuff, so we need to cut them some slack and when they react. An angry reaction is often different from a considered position. So again, in my life, I’ve decided when someone reacts, to forgive, to be patient, to give them time and space to change.
It is really cool how the Bible deals with this stuff. Be angry but don’t sin. In the next 24 hours I guarantee you and I will have opportunities to put this stuff into practice. I guarantee that something will come along that makes us want to honk our horn in the car, or hurl abuse at someone, or send an angry e-mail. Question: When it does, will we make a decision?
Sometimes the anger just wells up in us. Choice: Do I hurl a rock or do I just sit back for a minute? Cool stuff.