Respond, Don’t React

How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.
-Wayne Dyer

I read this quote of Wayne Dyer, an American author and motivational speaker. Initially, it seems like a simple statement about life in general. It, in fact, reminded me of another management lesson of how we should always respond and not react.

Both these quotes convey the same lesson, i.e., we should watch how we behave while responding to what is done to us. We should observe if our reaction is a knee jerk response to everything or if we understand the situation and reply accordingly. Many times, it leads to either resolving conflict or aggravating a simple misunderstanding into an all-out war.

Coming back to Wayne Dyer’s quote, when we are in a situation, there are several ways to handle them. Some are knee jerk responses, while some are strategic moves planned to build a brighter future. Some may be conniving schemes that create destruction. The situation we land in may not be our karma or our destiny. However, our response to this unforeseen situation will create our karma. If we handle it gracefully and peacefully, we build good karma. By taking out our anger and seeking revenge, we only create bad karma.

To better explain it, I will narrate a small anecdote. It occurred many years ago, but it highlighted this quote.

One day, my friend and I entered the bank and met an old acquaintance. This lady lived in our neighbourhood previously, and she was notorious for her unhinged rants at passers-by. I saw the same lady verbally abusing another person. This person was thoroughly embarrassed in front of all the bank employees and customers, so she ran out crying as we all watched in shock. Now the lady saw me and started abusing me. She recognised my friend and spoke ill of me to her. But I ignored her as if I had no recollection of her. As a result, I did not react to her abuses, turning my head and going about my business. My friend acknowledged her, and while calmy speaking to her, she led the lady out of the bank. Once the lady went out, everything went back to normal. Everyone in the bank praised my friend for handling the situation. They appreciated me for not fighting back.

The lady created a situation where three different people were embarrassed. We each responded differently. The first person reacted emotionally and ran out. I ignored her and carried on with my work. My friend intervened intelligently by removing her from the bank and stopping any further conflict. The lady’s behaviour was her own karma, but each of us created our own karma while we handled the situation. Thereby, one ended up in tears, and another (my friend) ended up as the hero. Isn’t this thought-provoking?

Karma Strikes When You Are Down

We Indians are well known for our belief in karma and fate. Plainly speaking, karma is what we do in life; our actions, that are driven by an intention. However, in everyday parlance, kama is used as a way to refer to payback. Everybody says karma’s a bitch, and I thought that they were just being resentful when it is time to pay back for their deeds. We humans, frequently act without consideration for consequences, so when it is time for payback, we are always caught off guard. However, karma is never as simple as just payback. It always comes with a twist. It hits when it is least expected.

Atonement for mistakes seems reasonable and justified when one is in luck. For instance, I laugh at my friend when she slips and falls down; If she were to ridicule me when I fall, then it would be payback. What actually happens is that when I slip and fall, it happens publicly and everyone laughs at me. My friend may not laugh, but I have to endure the embarrassment. That is how karma works. It does not just involve reparations, it is about the pain of reparations as well. Do you think I am exaggerating? Well, let me explain with an anecdote.

Karma always comes to collect when we are already down. By habit, I am a punctual person. The bus that I take to work, is usually late to pick me up. The driver always blamed the other passengers for being late. I used to criticize them in my mind for being tardy. I also complained to the management on a few occasions stating that the drivers’ excuses were as bad as a kindergartener.

Karma finally came to collect on the worst day. On that fateful day, I started out on time, however, my sandals broke; I had to go back to change them. As the bus is habitually late, I did not worry about it. As my luck would have it, on that day, the bus was early as the management decided to take action on all the complaints. I missed my bus that day, I had to take a cab to work. I had trouble getting a cab and I was late to work. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the day that my manager decided to do a surprise visit. Karma played its hand, and I was caught. Although I am generally punctual, my manager decided to set a precedent. My manager would not accept my explanation, he fined me half a day’s pay.

There are many such incidents that every one of us must have experienced at some point in our lives. I once splashed water from a puddle on a pedestrian in my rush to get to work. Before long I faced karma, a passing vehicle ran over a puddle, just as I was entering office. On another instance, I lied to my boss that I was having my tooth extracted and skipped work on a Friday. A month later, the crown on my incisor came off during a business lunch. It caused quite an embarrassment for me. My incisor was chipped in half when I was in school. I had a filling done and covered it with a crown to appear natural. That had to come off right when I bit into a juicy piece of chicken.

Such is the game plan of karma. It strikes when we are already facing bad luck, just to make the payback a bit more painful and memorable. I guess that is its way to ensure that we learn the lesson in the first instance. If we miss that lesson, then we are in for many more embarrassing life lessons, all courtesy of Karma. I can only pray that I learn my lessons at the earliest. If possible, I can also watch others and learn just to escape any personal lessons. Do you have any such instances?