Reacting vs. Responding to Injustice

/ Commentary

Let’s face it, our world and nation are a mess right now. As if the coronavirus wasn’t enough, we are now dealing with a national outcry for justice and change after the murder of George Floyd. The anger over his murder at the hands of a violent police officer is just the tip of the iceberg that has been slowly building for a long time. Whether you are Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, or anything in between, you should be angry about this because an innocent human being’s life was unjustly taken.

As a pro-life advocate, I strongly believe all human beings are created equal and have the inalienable right to life from conception until natural death. From the instant a human being comes into existence until they depart from this world their life is intrinsically valuable. Unjustly taking a human being’s life robs them of that right to life. Whether that is through abortion of a preborn child, or the killing of an innocent man.

It is normal for us to feel angry when an injustice happens. But we must be very careful what we do next.

We have two options to choose from: reacting and responding.

“A reaction is instant,” says Dr. Matt James in Psychology Today. “It’s driven by the beliefs, biases, and prejudices of the unconscious mind. When you say or do something ‘without thinking,’ that’s the unconscious mind running the show. A reaction is based in the moment and doesn’t take into consideration long term effects of what you do or say...It might turn out okay but often a reaction is something you regret later.”

Dr. James goes on to contrast a reaction with a response:

“A response on the other hand usually comes more slowly. It’s based on information from both the conscious mind and unconscious mind. A response will be more ‘ecological,’ meaning that it takes into consideration the well-being of not only you but those around you. It weighs the long term effects and stays in line with your core values.”

In short, a reaction is our initial thoughts and actions after something happens, whereas a response is something you sit back and think about before doing anything.

I don’t know about you, but more times than not, my initial reaction to something bad happening isn’t good. It is filled with anger and rage. I often want to lash out at the guilty party. While my anger might be justified, my bad actions would not.

In his book of proverbs, the Jewish King Solomon, considered to be one of the wisest men to have ever lived, wrote, “a fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Pro 29:11) Likewise, in his famous letter to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul tells them “in your anger do not sin.” (Eph 4: 26)

Solomon knew our initial reaction isn’t always good and tells us to instead quietly hold back our venting. Notice that Paul never said “don’t be angry.” He said, “In your anger do not sin.” He acknowledges we get angry and he knows we often react out of anger in a brash and sinful way, but he urges us not to.

When Jesus and his disciples were confronted in the garden by armed guards, the apostle Peter, ever the brash young man, reacted to them wanting to arrest Jesus. He reacted violently by pulling out his sword and slicing the ear off of a guard. Jesus, facing arrest for crimes he didn’t commit, was quick to reprimand his friend and tell him that violence was not the answer. (John 18: 11).

In contrast to that, we should think about our anger. Think about why we are angry, at whom we are angry, what can we do now to prevent this from happening again, and who will be affected by our actions. Once we have given thought to our anger, we should respond in a way that is best and will make the most difference. Instead of lashing out and possibly hurting someone, let your anger be turned into words and actions which change hearts and minds.

Again, Solomon writes, “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Pro 15: 1) We should respond with a gentle answer.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote, “I am convinced that even violent temperaments can be channeled through nonviolent discipline if they can act constructively and express through an effective channel their very legitimate anger.” King also said, “I believe as we struggle with these problems we’ve got to struggle with them with a method that can be militant but at the same time does not destroy life or property.”

We see here that King, having been oppressed by the society and government in which he lived under, having been imprisoned for standing up against injustice, and being furious at how people of color were treated, responded with love and grace. He was extremely angry, but he knew all too well that a response was more powerful than a reaction. King knew that reacting in violence would only make matters worse and would not solve anything. King applied the methods of Jesus on a large scale and it is those actions for which he is known for in the history books. His response rather than reaction is why we look to him with respect.

Sure, reacting is easier than responding. Trust me, I know. I’ve done my fair share of both. Almost every reaction I’ve had, especially out of anger, I came to regret. However, I can’t think of any responses I’ve had that I regret.

Although responding isn’t as easy as reacting, it is the better thing to do. It is taking the high road. Reacting to violence in like form only puts us on the level of those we are upset by. It makes us just as bad.

When I first started getting involved in pro-life activism 9 years ago, I realized very quickly that my go-to instinct of being upset by injustice was anger. I would wake up every day knowing that over 3,000 innocent children will have their lives taken that day in my country and that made me furious. Even though I was fuming with anger, I chose to sit back and think about what I could do to help fix the problem. I did not riot, I did not set things on fire, I did not attack people, I did not steal vacuums or TVs from a store. Did I feel like lashing out and doing any of those things in a reaction? I will admit, yes. But I knew doing any of those things would only cause more problems and wouldn’t stop innocents from being killed.

Instead, I chose to respond. I found organizations to get involved with that helped fight that human rights issue from different nonviolent and non destructive ways. As I did that, I was humbled and saw how those things made a difference and saved lives. Whether it is donating money to help those in need, silently marching for equal human rights, making social media graphics, spreading information and truth, having one-on-one conversations with people about the issues, writing papers and articles, and counseling people, all these nonviolent actions have worked to make a difference.

All of those were options I chose to do in response to my anger of injustice. Does that make my anger go away? Does that mean injustice has stopped? No. But it makes a difference in people’s lives and I have seen it change people’s hearts and minds. I have seen lives saved from those responses. I would not have seen any of those things if I chose to react in anger rather than respond in love.

I know these are difficult times and tensions are high. But I want to urge each and every one of you to respond to these things rather than react. Find ways to get involved in helping bring awareness to injustice.

I want to end with quoting former Patriots Tight End, Benjamin Watson:.

“At all times, in all circumstances, our actions and reactions are vitally important. As Christ-followers, there’s a certain way we need to carry ourselves in the midst of injustice. We have a responsibility to do so. Our primary goal in this life is to bring God glory. That doesn’t mean we don’t address the issues of our day or engage in civic debate. As citizens and members of our specific communities, we should not remove ourselves from the situations that desperately need our attention. It does mean we have a mandate to engage in a way that brings glory to God and ultimately points people toward Him and the things He cares about. We are to do so in a way that is different than those who don’t know Him.

Being a Christ-follower doesn’t mean we can’t get angry. Jesus got angry. God was angry a whole lot of times! But the Bible does say, ‘In your anger do not sin.’ Do not allow your anger to make you do or say something that is contrary to what you should be doing as a follower of Christ. We are to be justice warriors, but our method in doing so needs to be distinctly Christlike.”


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.

Reacting vs. Responding to Injustice
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