Responding vs. Reacting

I just read a beautiful Buddhist story on reactions. It goes like this:

Empty Vessel

A young farmer paddled his boat vigorously up river. He was covered with sweat as he paddled his boat upstream to deliver his produce to the village. It was a hot day, and he wanted to make his delivery and get home before dark. As he looked ahead, he spied another vessel, heading rapidly downstream toward his boat. He rowed furiously to get out of the way, but it didn't seem to help.

He shouted, "Change direction! You are going to hit me!" The boat came straight towards him anyway. It hit his boat with a violent thud. The young man cried out, "You idiot! How could you manage to hit my boat in the middle of this wide river?"

As he glared into the boat, seeking out the individual responsible for the accident, he realized that there was no one. He had been screaming at an empty boat that had broken free of its moorings and was floating downstream with the current.

The author of the blog that I read this story from explains that we react differently when we have someone to blame and focus our anger on; however, when there is no one to blame we more easily make peace with our fate and either accept it or do what we can to change it.

One of my guilty pleasures is to read the comment section of online news stories, blogs, facebook posts... you name it. It is such an interesting look on human behaviour when they have the security and anonymity of a computer. Sometimes it's humorous, sometimes it's frightening, and sometimes it's inspiring. Lately, it has been heartbreaking. Particularly last night I was reading a comment section on Facebook where one individual in the small town that I live in was being bullied and harassed to the point where I grew concerned for this person's well-being.

Then I read this story and wondered what happened to these people to have them hold so much hate in their hearts? Would these harmful incidents have happened without their targeted offender? If so, do humans naturally seek out people to be offenders? Someone to take the blame? Do we look for an outlet for our negative emotions when bad things happen? Why does that outlet need to be another living being?

Perhaps this individual did do things that harmed others. However, I have always believed that we cannot control the actions of others, only our own actions are those that we control. So how productive is it to hold on to this hate and bully someone online? What could these people do if they took the person out of the boat?

With emotions as strong as the ones expressed online last night, these people could move mountains. They could respond rather than react.

(Original blog by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith)

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