We often assume that our emotional responses are dictated by the situation. When we experience an upsetting event, we believe that we have no choice except to react to it. Any other response seems unnatural, or even impossible. But is it?
Sometimes we can choose not to get upset by a situation that normally would have upset us. To succeed, we must think through the situation, recognize that we have a choice, consider the consequences of our response, and then be deliberate about our reaction.
Several years ago, I had an interesting experience that illustrates the ability to choose. I was flying from Charlotte to Bangkok, Thailand to participate in a counseling clinic for American missionaries serving in China. My flight went from Charlotte to Minneapolis to Tokyo and finally to Bangkok.
After a layover in Minneapolis, I boarded a plane for the 13-hour trip to Tokyo. The plane filled with passengers and the attendant closed the cabin door. I got out a book to pass the time.
With the plane still at the gate, the pilot came over the intercom, saying, “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but we have a little problem with the plane. One of the computers isn’t working and we have called in technicians, so we should be under way in about 20 minutes.” I didn’t think this would be a problem because I had a four-hour layover in Tokyo.
About 20 minutes later, the pilot announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry, but the problem is a bit more extensive than we thought. We have found that the part we need to fix this computer is not in stock here at the airport, and we have had to send the technician into the city to purchase the part. We will get under way as soon as he returns and gets the computer fixed, and this is a computer you want to be working when we fly across the Pacific. Unfortunately, because this is an international flight, we can’t allow you to deplane, because of customs laws. Once the cabin door is closed, you are officially no longer in the U.S. We’ll turn on the air conditioning to make you as comfortable as possible.”
Four hours later, we were still sitting there, and people were not happy. Many were standing in the aisles complaining. I was still sitting in my seat, reading my book. I noticed that three ladies were standing in the aisle beside me, fussing about the situation. One of the women was speaking to me. “And you, why are you not upset?” she challenged. “You’re just sitting there reading like this isn’t bothering you!”
“I didn’t know that it would help to get upset,” I responded.
She wasn’t pleased with my response and stomped toward the front of the plane.
This woman didn’t know that I had considered the situation fully. I reasoned if the pilot says we need that computer to fly across the Pacific, I’ll believe him. My getting upset won’t get the computer fixed any faster. My only choice while waiting was to get upset or to read my book.
As it turned out, we got under way soon after that. I made my Tokyo to Bangkok flight, and after a complaint letter, I received some free airline miles for my trouble. Oh, and I was also somewhat pleased with my response to the angry woman.
Consider the possibility that you can choose not to get upset. Ask yourself if getting upset will help the situation or if it will just make you miserable. You won’t be able to control your reaction in every situation, but you might be able to do so sometimes.
Man on a plane photo available from Shutterstock