Pastor’s Corner: Reacting and Responding

A little while ago, I was at a big event.

Somebody I know spotted me, but we were seated at different tables and I had my back to her (without knowing it). To get my attention, she flicked water from her water glass at me, and actually managed to land several drops in my hair. I must say that it was an impressive shot!

It failed in its object, however. I didn’t stir, much less turn around.

Some years ago, a brilliant rabbi and psychologist named Edwin Friedman (his foundational book is Generation to Generation) taught me about the difference between reacting and responding. When I react to something, I act without thinking. It looks, for all the world, like the jerk of the knee when the physician strikes the patellar tendon with the rubber hammer (yes, I looked that up), but it’s not a physical reflex, it’s an emotional one. If I’m reacting to something, I may or may not do something that’s helpful. In fact, it could be harmful.

I try to favor a considered response, one I’ve thought about and chosen as the best way to deal with the situation. That’s a hard-won (and let’s face it, I’m still working on it) skill. It certainly doesn’t guarantee that I’ll do the right thing, but the chances are much better than if I go with the first thing that comes to mind.

In a crowd of people and tables, the chances of a little water falling on me accidentally as someone passed by were, I thought, pretty good. Looking up could only embarrass them, and the most likely people to be carrying water glasses around were servers – whose job is more than hard enough without getting more grief from me. So the best response, I thought, was to let it pass.

From my friend’s perspective, of course, it was rather frustrating. In the future, I guess I’ll have to consider the possibility that somebody is signaling me, and find a way to look around – subtly, so as not to embarrass someone carrying a glass – and see who’s around.

May God guide all our responses!


Pastor Eric

Photo credit: By Samir at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Categories Pastor's Corner Reflections | Tags: | Posted on December 7, 2016

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