Reaction vs Response – a solution to societal division

Reaction vs response is hard to differentiate at a surface level. For many, these two words sound and appear as if they mean the same thing. And they do to some degree.

The basis of each of these words is more or less a reciprocation of something said or done unto you. While their meanings may be similar, the difference between them is important to recognize.

Defining Reaction

Let’s begin by analyzing a few of the Merriam Webster definitions of react:

  • to exert a reciprocal or counteracting force or influence
  • change in response to a stimulus
  • to act in opposition to a force or influence

Based on these definitions, you may be thinking, “Yeah, this how I would define response too…” – and that’s a fair argument. The word response is even used in one of those definitions.

The second definition here is the most useful when trying to understand reaction vs response. The idea of changing in response to something is the crux of this definition.

This concept plays a large role in the contrast between these two words – more on this later.

Defining Response

As a theme continuance, we’ll review the Merriam Webster definitions of respond:

  • to say something in return : make an answer
  • to show favorable reaction
  • something constituting a reply or a reaction

Ok, now you might be thinking “Is this a joke? These words DO mean the same thing…” – and again, you’re not incorrect in your assessment. Reaction is used in two of these definitions, so what’s the catch?

The important phrase in these definitions is make an answer. Placing emphasis on this idea might help you differentiate the two. Read on for a further breakdown and analysis.

Reaction vs Response: the distinction

By now, we’ve established that these two words do have very similar meanings. The interchangeable use of these words in dictionary definitions is likely the cause for confusion.

We see response used as a part of the definition of reaction and vice versa. This makes it incredibly easy to conflate the two.

The difference is rooted in the basis of your reply.

Human Nature

Reacting emotionally to circumstances is a common theme in modern society, and it’s often done unconsciously. 

Reading the news, scrolling through social media, or even just simple conversations might invoke an emotion that creates an immediate rebuttal.

This phenomena is nothing new. Emotionally based action is something human beings have been trained to gravitate towards. 

Appealing to emotion is a perpetual tenet of certain media formats such as film and television.

This is often important in these mediums as it can assist in the delivery of a message. Many of the greatest films and television shows are based on their ability to captivate an audience and elicit an emotion.

The Unconscious Consequence

However, the consequence of this is the power emotion-based media has to creep into other aspects of your life if not recognized.

We are what we repeatedly do, and consumption of emotion-based media is no different. When consistently exposing ourselves to this type of content without acknowledging it for what it is, we tend to embody that in our interactions and relationships

The downside to this is that we often don’t realize we’re doing it. Think about the number of times someone has said or done something to you that you’ve hastily countered without any real thought as to the reasoning behind your response.

This type of emotional reply puts the power of your mind and behavior in someone else’s hands. It may not seem like it at the time, but those quick, ‘knee-jerk’ reactions often contributes to a sense of internal grief. 

The source of this grief is difficult to pinpoint. Generally, it builds up slowly over time and becomes hard to rectify once you acknowledge it.

The Alternative Solution

Stoicism provides an antidote to this mentality and internal grief. Consider the foundation of stoicism as a starting point.

This establishes the idea of maintaining focus on things you can control while accepting the things that are outside of your control.

We can’t control how others behave, but we can control our response. This is where the response definition make an answer comes into play.

Responding implies that you’ve taken in a statement or situation, analyzed it, and created your own idea to present.

The distinction is that you’re coming from a place of logic rather than emotion. 

Thinking through your response provides an opportunity for an objective analysis of what’s been done or said. This allows you to maintain control of your thoughts and behavior.

This also has the power to deescalate interactions, whereas emotionally-based behavior often intensifies an interaction.


In summary, understanding the distinction between reaction and response is imperative to leading a virtuous life.

It’s as simple as reaction versus action.

When you allow others to control your thoughts and behavior, you’re in a constant state of reaction.

When you have control over your own mind, you embody action.

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