Cook: Las Vegas and our response time

Cook: Las Vegas and our response time

October 8th, 2017 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

There is a gap, a moment, a pause.

Between what he did and how you respond.

A gap, a moment, a pause.

Between what she said and how you respond.

There is a gap, a moment, a pause.

Between something in the outside world — a comment, a tweet, a rude cashier, a hostile neighbor — and your reaction.

Your anger. Your rage. Your fear. (Or, rather, our anger. Our rage. Our fear).

There is a gap, a moment, a pause.

It may feel like milliseconds. It may feel like nanoseconds. It may feel like there's absolutely no time whatsoever between the infuriating, offending words he said or the insulting, cruel things she did and the immediate and blistering way we get angry and outraged and lose our temper.

But if you look close enough, you'll see a gap.

A moment.

A pause.

And it's in this space that the whole world hangs in balance.

When the gap is microsmall, we don't experience enough time to think before we react. And when we react without thinking, we suffer, often saying words or doing things we regret for years.

"I was out of my mind," we might say later. "I wasn't even thinking."

Exactly.

Someone flips us off in traffic. Someone posts something about Trump. (Or Trump posts something about Trump.) We see Kaepernick. We hear about the nearby Confederate statue.

And we are immediately sucked in. Triggered. Hooked.

We swell with emotion. We flush. Then, we respond: yelling, hitting, shouting, suppressing, whatever.

All of this is lightning fast.

But it doesn't have to be.

A few years ago, I got tired of being angry. Tired of burning up so much energy. Tired of the stress and emotional hangover. So I began to look at my anger: where does it come from? What does it feel like? (My chest tightens. My head gets heavy and thick. The skin around my eyes stretches taut.) What triggers it?

The more I looked, the more I began to notice this little space between the external world — an email, a reckless driver in the lane next to me, something my kids did — and my response to it.

I noticed I didn't have to get angry.

At least, not as quickly.

Not as mindlessly.

I noticed that I had a choice on how to respond.

Call it my response time.

The more I paid attention to it, the bigger it got.

The bigger it got, the more freedom I experienced.

I realized I had a choice: my response was my own.

It wasn't dependent on what she said. Or he did.

My response was my own.

I once heard of a monk — I believe it was the character in Roland Merullo's delightful "Breakfast with Buddha" series — who once was confronted by an offensive and rude man.

You can't offend me, the monk replied. It's impossible to offend me.

In other words, the monk's interior is so independent of his outside world. His emotions were not like a jittery hummingbird, but more like a mountain. Not yanked here and there by this and that.

Don't worry. I'm not holier than thou. I'm not some emotional-less robot or ice prince. I still get ticked. Royally. Frequently. (While writing this — or trying to — my kids started fighting. So I ran upstairs yelling at them to stop yelling so I could finish writing this column about not yelling.)

In America these days, our response time is lightning fast. Anger seems like our dominant emotion.

But what if we could learn to delay our response? What if we could make a little more elbow room for ourselves? Expand the real estate between the comment that normally infuriates us and our reaction, which doesn't have to add to the fury?

We can work on that space.

Pay attention to that gap.

Be mindful of the moment.

We don't have to respond to aggression with more aggression.

Because our anger clogs like a blocked artery.

That leads to division.

That leads to breakdown.

And that leads to violence.

Las Vegas.

Charlottesville.

Washington.

Or a million other places where violence crushes things, families get broken, words are said we can't get back.

These words today are my response to Las Vegas: we cannot fix the violence and anger out there until we fix the violence and anger in here.

There is a gap.

A moment.

A pause.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.

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