What’s a uniquely human ability? We are very likely the only animals on the planet that can create a space between stimulus and response. Actually I don’t know if this can be proven, but it most certainly is a major aspect of being human.
Human beings have the ability to choose what their response will be for any given stimulus, and yes even fight or flight ones like the response to being burnt. But a focus on extreme life or death responses is not helpful for what I’m pointing to here. I’m talking about the everyday “normal” stimuli that we are exposed to.
Every one of us has the ability to consider an incoming stimulus (something happens), think about it (make it mean something) and then respond (take some action or ignore the stimulus).
Creating that space is for many of us a lost art. Of course we can’t consider every possible stimulus that we receive in any given day, but there are many that do deserve this space, this consideration, because our response will either work to build our relationships and the life that we want …. or not.
A practiced consideration of what is happening around us, and to us will afford us the ability to assess the appropriate response for a positive life experience or a negative life experience. For the most part, I’m speaking here of a cumulative life experience.
Think about this in your average day. You’re late for work and your 7 year old is nagging you about being poked by the 10 year old and you explode.
You’re driving to work and someone cuts you off and you explode.
You’re being interviewed for a job and you cut the interviewer off even before she finishes asking you the question.
In each example there is an unintended consequence. A price will be paid.
I love the last example. Have you ever noticed people who are uncomfortable with silence? All you have to do is be silent and they will talk themselves into a corner, out of a job, or (you) under the table. That’s a good sign of someone who has completely lost the art of creating this space between stimulus and response.
Creating this space is a great practice in the practice of your life. When people speak to you take a couple seconds before responding to really consider what they are saying or asking, and then respond. Your response is then more likely to be aligned with your goals, and commitments. Maybe even compassion.
Now this will be no benefit to you unless you develop an associated practice of choosing meaning and assessing situations and character. I’ll post on these at another time, but for now consider that when you create the space you must use that space (time) to choose what meaning you attribute to what someone says, and/or assess a situation.
This meaning you choose, or assessment you make is always within the context of what your goals are and how the person or situation in front of you fits in.
For now just think about the space. Where in your life would you benefit from a practice of creating that space?