Reflection: In Relationships—Actor or Re-Actor?
by Father Don Thomas
Over the years, probably millions of promising relationships have been destroyed, leading to much heartache, regret and real hatred. I would point to a few such relationships: parent and child; teacher and student; principal and teacher: bishop and priest; pastor and parishioner; and employer and employee. The list could go on and on. Early in this reflection, let it be understood that the words "actor and re-actor" can be used in various situations to imply or express what the speaker or writer wishes to be known, depending on the circumstances.
"He's a bad actor" might refer to the fact that one is not good at theater acting, but it is frequently used in the sense "watch out for that guy, he's a bad actor", comparable to a bad apple in a basket of apples. It is the same with the word "re-act". If one throws a rock at us, or if a car suddenly veers toward us, it is good and natural to react. Nothing wrong with that. However, for this reflection, let us point out our meaning.
For our consideration of relationships, let the word "actor" be one who does things, one who gets something done. Let the word "reactor" describe the individual who in a reflex manner responds to a word, a remark, an accusation or any other situation without any thought or reflection. The reactor's response is like a flash of lightning, it is sudden and frequently uttered in anger or frustration, but definitely launched in a reactionary manner. It is this "reactor's" role that very often leads to disaster, hurt feelings, hatred and regret. It can be so strong, forceful and mean that it can even shock the actor so badly that it provokes the actor into becoming a "reactor" as well.
Talk about disaster! Nothing good usually results from such a situation; blood pressure certainly rises; both the actor and the reactor end up yelling at each other, both yelling at the same time and neither one listening at all; and both concluding that they wish they had never sat down to talk; they are worse off than before they started the session, and often enough, that might be the last time they speak to each other for months or even years. Total disaster!
On the other hand, what a fabulous relationship it is when both participants are actors—people who want to get something done, or who want a difference or problem solved or cleared up. Let one or both of the actors be sharp enough to lay a few basic ground-rules when some problem or difference arises. For example, it is pointed out before starting that both can't talk at the same time. Maybe toss a coin to see who will start, but one does have to listen while the other speaks. Then, insist that the other person listens, without interruption, while the other is speaking. It might even be wise and helpful to have a paper and pencil available for notes. Simply jotting down a word or two will enable the "listener" to continue listening, and at the same time the notes will indicate ideas the person wants to refer to when his or her turn to speak comes up. Wouldn't that be a most effective ground-rule?
Both participants should have a chance to submit suggestions for ground-rules. Another very practical one would be that "we do not raise our voices in anger", but rather be calm, take notes if necessary, but really listen—really listen—and don't sit there trying to formulate smarter answers by way of response. Listen to what is said, and take all the time you need to respond, with the help of your notes. And a third important groundrule: if both are actors instead of reactors, they should realize beforehand the possibility of disagreeing agreeably, winding up the session by remaining friends, but wanting more time to think about some of the things that were said. Perhaps, even a future session can be planned. If serious decisions have to be made and the status quo cannot continue, then sometimes the call for "tough love" has to be made, always leaving the door open for future communications if further "sessions" might be desirable.
In closing, I feel that "listening" is the key to beneficial discussion. So often we do not get to the point of finding out what the other person really wants or is thinking. As a result of listening, it is incredible how often compromises are reached, satisfactory to both sides, friendships are maintained and a maturity in handling relationships is the satisfying result. Let us all strive to be "actors" rather than "reactors". You are, after all, still interested in normal blood pressure, aren't you?
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