Carnage in the Toy Store

This morning I went to a local shopping centre (mall) to buy a birthday present for my two year-old pseudo-niece (my business partner’s daughter. Happy Birthday little Jessie!)  It proved to be quite the eye-opening experience for the childless (and somewhat clueless) alpha-male. While the shopping part of the trip turned out to be something of an enjoyable adventure for Yours Truly (who knew toy stores could be such fun?), the same couldn’t be said for the six (or so) year-old who was test driving trucks in the next aisle. As the excited young truck driver lifted the object of his desire above his head to show the Chief Financial Officer what he needed for his next birthday, his chubby little fingers somehow lost their grip and the rather-costly toy (over a hundred bucks) came crashing down on to the concrete floor, transforming it instantly into a jigsaw puzzle. Which, of course, is a euphemism for… an expensive pile of crap.

For a nanosecond there was silence.

I knew it wouldn’t last. I looked at the little boy. I saw terror. I looked at the mother. I saw wild rage. I felt a bit nervous for the little fella. I think I had some kind of deja vu moment. Sympathy pains. Or something.

For a moment I thought she might actually kill him with what remained of the truck. Simultaneously it started: his crying and her screaming. For what seemed like an eternity, the mother bellowed at the distraught child. Oblivious to her own disgraceful behaviour, the out-of-control woman ranted and raved like a lunatic.

If not for the ever-growing audience, I am sure she would have hit the boy. Leaving the broken toy on the floor, the woman dragged the screaming child out of the store and left us spectators stunned. I said something to the shop assistant who informed me that such scenes are a regular occurrence in the store.

Life: A Never-Ending Series of Reactions

In many ways, our lives are a series of reactions. It’s unavoidable. And while we do our best to create our own destiny and to live proactive and productive lives, the reality is that we all live in a dynamic and unpredictable world. Reacting is a fundamental and necessary part of the human experience. It’s a required skill. It’s what we do hundreds of times a day. Consciously or not. Positively or negatively.

We hear the weather forecast, we react. The guy in the Mazda hits his brakes, we react. Our partner says something, we react. Our child spills milk, we react. The boss walks in, we react. We hear good or bad news, we react. One way or the other. Somebody lets us down, we react. The lights change, we react. Somebody gives us feedback, we react. A song comes on the radio, we react. An opportunity presents itself, we react. We’re confronted with a challenge, we react.

Today you will react hundreds of times and many of those reactions will happen on auto-pilot. Some reactions will be incidental and for the most part, meaningless (scratching an itch, stepping over a puddle, swaying to some music). Some will impact on others (reacting to the woman who cuts you off in the car park). Some will affect your personal relationships (an argument with a friend). Some will be life-impacting (dealing with a tragedy). Some will create positive outcomes. Some negative. One reaction could even involve a child who has accidentally broken a toy.

In reacting the way she did in the toy store, the mother created numerous (undesirable and unnecessary) outcomes. She:

  1. Terrified a child that (I assume) she loves.
  2. Humiliated him (by dragging him through the store by his shirt).
  3. Taught him that mistakes are not okay.
  4. Drew unnecessary attention to herself and made everyone within fifty feet feel uncomfortable.
  5. Put herself into a negative and destructive emotional state. And no, the demise of the truck wasn’t the problem: her reaction was.
  6. Made herself look like a complete idiot!

In this life there are many things (most things, in fact) which will happen despite you and me. They will happen to us and around us. Some good. Some bad. However, there is one thing that will always be in our control – unless we choose to hand over that power –  and that is, how we react. Life is not fair or unfair my friends; life just is.

A long time ago I made a conscious decision that situations, circumstances and events wouldn’t define me or determine my emotional and psychological states; I will do that myself. Consciously and intentionally. I will choose my mood, my attitude, my behaviours, my reactions and therefore, my outcomes. And therefore my reality. I will be influenced by – but not determined by – the events of my world. To the best of my ability, I will consciously and thoughtfully choose my reactions. Will it always be easy? No. Will I do my best anyway? Yep. I will be ever-mindful of the likely consequences and potential impact of my reactions – on my life and the lives of others. Consciousness and awareness (of how I react and the likely consequences of my reactions) are things that need to be worked on. Forever.

Our reactions can be relationship-enhancing, or relationship-destroying. They can put us in a solution-focused headspace, or a problem-obsessed pity-party. They can make people laugh or fill a room with tension. They can empower people or discourage them. They can make people feel safe and secure or terrified and confused. They can lead to learning and personal growth or bitterness and anger.

Someone much smarter than me once said:

In the context of life, it’s not what happens that matters, but how we react (to what happens) that matters.

I tend to agree.

Today I’m encouraging you to be more mindful, more conscious and more aware of your reactions (big and small) – and the likely outcomes of those reactions – on your life, and the lives of the people in your world. Sometimes, a better life is the by-product of better reactions. So choose to react consciously and responsibly.

As always, love to hear your ideas, thoughts, feedback and stories.

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