Learn to Respond, Not React!

The following story is a lesson about taking responsibility for our own lives. It is about learning to respond rather than react when we are confronted by “life”.:

A young farmer paddled his boat vigorously up river. 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 interesting thing is that we behave more calmly when we know that what is coming towards us is an empty boat. With no available scapegoat, we don’t get upset. We make peace with the fact that our misfortune was the result of fate or bad luck and we do our best to rectify the situation. We may even laugh at the absurdity of a random unmanned boat finding a way to collide with us in a vast body of water.

The challenge for all of us is to recognize that there’s never really anyone in the other boat. We are always screaming at an empty vessel. An empty boat isn’t targeting us. And neither are all the people creating the sour notes in the soundtrack of our day. If we start treating all boats as empty, we will have no other choice but to 1) accept what is and 2) change what we can change.

Summing-up: It is up to us to choose how we react to the empty boats in our lives. We can either yell and scream at the empty boats and endure the collision or choose to get out of the way the best we can, accepting what happens, and do our best to continue on our way along the river.

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