“Does this improve the situation?”

ice covered statue

Not all of our actions are helpful.

In fact, when we’re caught in small, defensive or petty mindsets, our actions can be wilfully hurtful and obstructive. We can sabotage situations and wound those present.

We have a real capacity to be arseholes, especially when we act in a reactionary and aggressive way.

The solution to many of these related challenges is space. With enough space between the stimulus and response, we can be less reactionary and respond more skilfully to situations with a wider range of choices. We have the time to consider the consequences of our actions and determine if they reflect our long term interests.

The challenge, in the heat of the situation, is in remembering to create the space. In some cases, it’s not just about remembering, but also over-riding our own natural tendency to lash out and react. And it can be tough to fight a natural reaction. Just try to keep your hand on a hot stove.

In the same way that a wedge can stop a door from slamming shut, we can use questions to stop reactions from slamming situations shut, closing off other options.

My favourite question in this case is “does this improve the situation?”

It’s something I try to ask myself before I speak whenever I’m feeling trapped or defensive. Before I snap at someone. Before I react. Before the toys get thrown out of the pram.

It’s not a panacea to all bad reactions, but it creates the space for a “no” response, and then a desire to find better alternatives.

And sometimes, that’s all you need.

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