Reality Check: Distinguishing Events from Responses

“The pandemic affected almost every aspect of our lives.” Like you, I’ve heard statements similar to that over recent years. It’s been said both in casual conversations and in media. This time, for some reason, it struck me as being a little off. “Is that really true?” I wondered.
Now you’re thinking, “That’s a silly comment. Of course it’s true! Just look around; see all that’s changed.” You would be correct. Many lives have changed; yours and mine among them.
However, my question isn’t about whether our lives have changed. My curiosity is: Are the changes due to the pandemic? Or are many of the changes due to responses to the pandemic?
“What does it matter?” you might ask. We wouldn’t have to respond to the pandemic if there hadn’t been a pandemic. So what’s the difference?
It’s important to distinguish between what we can control and what we cannot control. If we don’t see (or accept) the difference, we could expend all kinds of energy banging our heads against the wall trying to change something that we cannot change. Meanwhile, actions that we could take about things that are within our power to change go unnoticed and therefore untouched. The result? Frustration is the likely outcome.
Even if we choose not to take action on what we can control, it’s still useful to be able to tell the difference between what’s controllable and what’s not. That is, we need to distinguish the event (non-controllable) from our response to the event (controllable).
Any discussion about the pandemic has the potential to be divisive. On the one hand, people get engaged (helpful) but also enraged (not so helpful). Who’s right? Who’s wrong? I won’t be offering any opinion on that, for sure!
Fortunately for my purposes, there are plenty of other situations that offer opportunities for similar confusion between event and response.
For example, let’s say we’re now jobless. That’s the event. What’s the response? That’s what we choose to do. Do we make efforts to look for new, possibly even better work? Do we develop new skills, seek out new contacts, and develop more interests? Or do we sink into the couch and play on our phone? The event doesn’t control our response. Our choice controls our response.
Aging is another example. We get older. This is an event over which we have no control. What’s the response? While the range of available choices may become more limited over time, we do have choices in how we respond to this inevitable, ongoing event.
An accident, a loss, or some other misfortune is an event. Positive events happen too, such as unexpected windfalls or serendipitous meetings.
We may have no control over significant events that affect our lives. Despite that, how we respond is still a matter of choice.
As we are not all-powerful, it’s unlikely that we have unlimited choices. We may not like any of our choices. We may have to weigh the badness of one response against the badness of another and choose what seems to be the least bad. Even then, we can’t perfectly predict the outcome.
If we focus on the uncontrollable event rather than the chosen response, we deny ourselves an opportunity to learn. We can’t protect ourselves against all negative events. We can, however, examine responses with an eye to improving them.
Which has the greater impact? Events? Or our responses to events?

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