Attempting to sleep while riding in the car is not optimal, but being awakened from that sleep by a scream is far worse. High-pitched screams of distress accompanied by low-pitched rumble-strip tones instantly brought my 10-year-old self back to vivid consciousness.
We were drifting off the road, heading straight for a road sign. The driver quickly reacted. Overreacted, that is. She yanked the steering wheel back the other way.
The car started turning the other way. Then it kept turning. Three times it spun around, crossing the entire two-lane highway before smacking into a tree backwards at 50 mph. The front seats slammed back, breaking my nose and gashing my brother’s forehead. The front seat passenger’s head needed 13 staples. Ironically, the driver only had a small scratch.
This car-totaling wreck did not happen because the car drifted off the road. Our originally minor predicament escalated because of the driver’s reaction.
The reaction was worse than the original problem.
Reactions are a prominent part of our culture. Likes, reshares and comments underlie the essence of social media. Clickbait news headlines cause upset people to share their reactions, driving more traffic to the news outlet.
But where does reacting fit into a Chistian’s life? In the Bible, we are cautioned against reacting, especially with a negative attitude. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath,” James 1:19 says. In a culture that prizes hot takes and witty comebacks, Christians are called to listen patiently before reacting.
When we see something upsetting or distasteful, we should not simply react. A reaction, detached from careful thought and study, is merely the emotional outpouring of a prejudice. Instead, our reaction should prompt us to reflect and recalibrate.
By reflect, I mean we should honestly examine the situation as fairly as we can. Research the details. Seek to empathize with the other person. Filter and affirm the valid aspects.
By recalibrate, I mean we should realign our position carefully, emphasizing what we stand for instead of what we oppose. We should not base our redirection on the erroneous path or we will likely forge a different, also wrong path. Even seeking some sort of balance between two erroneous positions still risks merely inventing another erroneous opinion. Instead, we should revisit our Bible, reflect on its guidance, and recalibrate our standards if they are not biblical.
If we watch a notable Christian fall into a major moral failure, we should not necessarily reject everything good we gleaned from them. Rather, we should reflect on the decisions that led to their downfall and take warning that we too can wander from the way.
Reacting, on its own, leads to confirmation bias. Reflecting leads to more careful beliefs. Recalibrating leads to a corrected bearing.
Instead of unleashing our indignation about things that upset us, we can view others’ failures as a prompt to examine our own failures. We can view the wayward wanderings of others as a reminder to recalibrate our misdirected mindsets. When our mental rumble strips alert us someone is drifting off the road, we should refocus on the road, not on running from the rumble strips.
Reactions are only helpful when they prompt us to reflect and to recalibrate. Otherwise, they will drive us off the other side of the road.