How to react to a provocation

A lot of energy in our life goes on protecting our territory and fighting back if someone attacks.

Davos reflections 

How to react to a provocation final
A lot of energy in our life goes on protecting our territory and fighting back if someone attacks. Be it an angry bus driver or annoying colleague - we are quick to engage in a battle. But could it be that the very moment you start to react the game is lost? 

“It was not the fact that opponent has personally attacked me during one of Davos meetings, it was the fact that I have reacted emotionally – that was what frustrated me” – shared his observations with me CEO of one of the top global Chemicals companies at the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos this year.

At the same meeting, there was a lot of focus on the idea of “mindfulness”. What, then, do spiritual leaders think of the idea of reacting? I asked a Buddhist monk, who was also taking part in the meeting, to share his opinion. “Our consciousness is a mirror that is constantly reflecting itself” – he shares with me in a crowded Congress Center cafeteria. “So if someone attacks you, the person is just projecting frustration and anger at you, and most likely to everything else in his/her life. It means that between the action of another person and your reaction there is always a silent gap. It is up to you how to fill it. If you react, you lose. If you ignore, you escape. But if you show compassion to the pain of another person, you heal the conflict and gain a friend”.

Turning a negative into a positive

Interesting approach, but does it work in practice? Is there a risk here to become a door mat? – were my thoughts while placing an order in the restaurant at dinner that night. Thoughts were interrupted by a harsh voice of a waitress. "You have such a big nose" she said to a little daughter of my friend. The girl laughed and started chatting with a woman in a very tender way. “Love your dress - she said - the roses are gorgeous”. The waitress immediately went from being hostile to friendly, thanked her and admitted something: “You know, I was always obsessed about my nose. I always thought it was too big.” 

Bingo! The girl was not yet burdened with insecurities of an adult and did not have a problem with her nose, thus the puzzle of aggressor and victim never matched. Her focus went on waitress. By showing compassion and love six year old within seconds was able to build a relationship of such a trust that the woman confessed it was her problem she was projecting out there. Result: good buddies throughout the whole evening. 

All the answers are in you 

"I have black belt in karate – shared CEO of Biotech Company with me the next day at one of the sessions. The key idea is that you do not spend any physical energy - you just mirror the opponent. He gets thrown away with his own force by me doing nothing, just reflecting! Can this be applied on the mental level?”

It seems my friend’s six-year-old daughter has the answer. It is our pain and insecurity that create the crack of vulnerability in our own mirror of consciousness. As the crack opens up, the focus goes on protecting ourselves, versus studying the aggressor.

“To meet someone who really hurts you, is to meet a rare and precious treasure. Make full use of the opportunity to eradicate your defects. If you cannot yet feel compassion for those who treat you badly, it is sign that you mind has not been fully transformed” -  Tibetan thinker Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

So, is the intensity of our reaction to someone a barometer of imperfections in ourselves in the particular area we are reacting to? And once we sort out our own insecurities, will there be a chance to unlock the heavy iron doors of anger with the fragile key of compassion?

Original publications
Author: Tatiana Babakina is Associate Director in the Chemistry and Advanced Materials Industry team at the World Economic Forum

Comments (1)

Riddhima Kowley-Khan 7 years, 10 months and 22 days ago

Beautiful reflection. I have read a lot about the amygdala hijack and how that gets our neural system to react. The awareness of what's happening to me helps me sometimes control it. However, taking that emotional energy that is generated by the amygdala and consciously chanelling it into positive action is a whole different level. If one can do it, I imagine it must be a very liberating experience.