by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center
Even before the events of last week landed Ferguson (and, by extension, St. Louis), Missouri, on the national stage, I had been thinking about the distinction between reaction and response. The two words are fairly similar in meaning; some may argue that they are roughly the same thing. But when confronted with difficult topics and experiences that require us to hold multiple (sometimes even conflicting) views in our minds at once, I think we do well to consider their subtle differences.
To react feels more one-sided to me, and more instinctual. Less planned and more spontaneous than response, but also focused (whether intentionally or not) on exerting a force over something or someone.
But to respond feels more deliberate, the result of a discernment process through which we consider possible actions in response to a stimulus and choose the one best suited to achieve a particular effect. In this way, it feels more like dialogue to me, the interaction of multiple perspectives that lead one to a clear answer to the question, “How shall I proceed?” Indeed, as the OED confirms, the origins of the word involve answering a question, engaging in a correspondence.
In the context of a university – and especially a Jesuit university – we are called to empower our students to move from a reactive relationship to the world beyond our walls to a responsive one. We are called to educate the “whole person,” to form women and men who can be in solidarity with others. If we are to help them make sense of our flawed and broken communities, and to find their own foothold for advancing the cause of justice in those communities, then we are called to help them move from reaction to response.
One way to move from reaction to response is through reflection. Crucial to Ignatian spirituality (and therefore, to Ignatian pedagogy), the act of reflection provides the space and occasion for experiencing our own initial reactions and interrogating them before we act. It requires us to examine where our reactions come from, what personal experiences and feelings trigger them, and what kind of consequences might accompany them. Reflection also slows us down, teaches our brain to take a pause and creates a space in which we may listen for alternative views.
In preparing to teach this fall, give some thought to ways you might help students move from reaction to response. As our region and our nation again roll up their collective sleeves and set about the difficult work of rebuilding broken relationships and broken trust, let us aim to model responsive dialogue, not reactive monologue, and to make visible for students the importance of tackling hard, real-world challenges with reflection and response.