Response Is Different From An Answer

Ariel Burger

listen_btn

Image of the Week

The current moment calls for moral ferocity. We should not sleep well at night when we know others are suffering. Ferocity itself, though, holds danger. Let’s not forget that some of the worst perpetrators of evil have often claimed to act in the name of the good, or God, or the national interest, or a future utopia. By claiming the moral high ground, and labeling our opponents misguided, we run the risk of doing great harm in the name of good.

I suggest that we balance our moral ferocity with humility and tenderness. First, we need the humility of consistent self-examination. This requires us to do something very countercultural: Celebrate questions even when we do not have answers. Our culture rewards certainty, confidence, and definitive answers. By celebrating questions, we increase the likelihood of identifying the potential harm we might do in the name of our values. [...]

But what of the student who asks: Questions alone aren’t enough! After all, we need to know what to do, how to behave, and how best to address practical challenges.

This is an important challenge to an approach that emphasizes questioning and humility. These moments often call for bold and creative responses. It is not enough to repeat the stories of the past; we must also write new ones. We must step off the page into our own situation, which is unmapped and unknown.

But there is a critical difference between an answer and a response. An answer is definitive and closes down conversation. Further, if my answer is opposed to yours, then the possibility of conflict becomes great. We live in a time of many answers, very little clarity, and increasing disconnection between people.

Unlike an answer, a response is an action. A response is defined by a question and provides meaning. It allows me to transform the urgency I feel about an issue into action. We need more responses to human suffering, and fewer definitive answers. 

Rabbi Ariel Burger is an author and educator. Excerpt above is adapted from this article.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that a response is different from an answer? Can you share an experience of a time you balanced moral ferocity with humility and tenderness? What helps you lead with a response instead of an answer?

Add Your Reflection:

14 Previous Reflections:

  • link
    On Aug 30, 2021 abbe rolnick wrote:
    I've often find myself in the gray area, seeing the validity of many differing parties, I to make choices that lean and waiver.... When in doubt, I seek kindness first, analysis later. As a Bubbie, i reflect on my grandchildren, their curiously, their willingness to listen. I have a responsibility to to reflect and offer suggestions. Knowing I don't have answers helps. I share insights.... and they reflect back a rainbow of options.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Aug 30, 2021 Patrick wrote:
    Timely and thank you. 🙏🏽♥️

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Aug 30, 2021 Coletta wrote:
    This important difference between "response" and "answer" does indeed open up a sense of humility in my own self. Openness, and open tenderness, i.e. vulnerability, require such courage and self-reflection,. Rabbi Burger is defining "response" in a very particular way.. The word "response" implies "responsibility", "responsiveness", and so for me opens up another important difference: a "reflective", attuned response vs a "reflexive" self-gratifying response. "Eye for an eye" is, after all, a response one could make - a reflexive response which as Gandhi suggested, makes the whole world blind (and perhaps in light of this discussion is actually an "answer", and not a response). And while "Turning the other cheek" requires containment and self restraint, a truly reflective, attuned response, as described by a previous comment, is the grandma who scooped up her grandson and respo... [View Full Comment] This important difference between "response" and "answer" does indeed open up a sense of humility in my own self. Openness, and open tenderness, i.e. vulnerability, require such courage and self-reflection,. Rabbi Burger is defining "response" in a very particular way.. The word "response" implies "responsibility", "responsiveness", and so for me opens up another important difference: a "reflective", attuned response vs a "reflexive" self-gratifying response. "Eye for an eye" is, after all, a response one could make - a reflexive response which as Gandhi suggested, makes the whole world blind (and perhaps in light of this discussion is actually an "answer", and not a response). And while "Turning the other cheek" requires containment and self restraint, a truly reflective, attuned response, as described by a previous comment, is the grandma who scooped up her grandson and responded to his state of distress, the underlying cause for his aggression, with calm, attentive, tender care. Beautiful.[Hide Full Comment]

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Aug 14, 2021 Elaine Gotfryd Noonan wrote:
    "We need the humilityof consistent self-examination" I feel is a most important statement. This is our basis of where all of our ideas, thoughts, and conversations are processed. If we are in a balanced place we can respond and not merely answer which is definitive and closes down conversation. This open process will encourage idea sharing and improved respectful communication.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Aug 3, 2021 Amy wrote:
    My grandson (Frankie) has yet to be diagnosed, but has some "issues". My granddaughter (Evie) is 2 years younger than her bother Frankie, and has had to be super flexible in the past three years of her little 3 year old life with her 5 year old brother. Making a long story short, with hands on his hips, Frankie was lording over his sister yet once again (waiting for her to get out of a chair he did not want her to occupy. Grandma Amy's "response" today, was to pick her grandson up and walk him to the back yard to the swing set ... where we swangand talked about coopering, loving, being flexible, what was going on in his head ... feeling the sunshine and working on our "calm". Answers work for Frankie when talking about "Woolley Mamoths" ... but not for matters regarding "relationships". Best to respond. 

    1 reply: Reader | Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Aug 3, 2021 Reader wrote:
    Q: Say a child asks his Mom: Mum, why do the little children in our neighborhood have no food?

    A: Mum may answer: Because the parents do not have money to buy food.

    The response could be: Let's cook food for them together!

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Aug 3, 2021 Jean wrote:
    An answer is often immediate, while a response requires reflection.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Aug 3, 2021 sivakambika Ramakrishnan wrote:
    If a question receives an answer..the question 'Dies' because the same question in another time will receive or have another answer. Question is ONE answers are MANY. They need validation. It is the function of the intellect. Is blunt. Learning stops with answers
    Response is in the NOW. Needs intelligence....not intellect.. Response is infused with tenderness. Encourages learning...discovery.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Aug 2, 2021 Anilkumar Pandit wrote:
    Response is, "Let's explore further to enhance happiness" on lines of 'ShikshaValli and AnandValli' chapters of Taitreya Upanisad.
    There is never a final definitive answer, but the path mentioned in the first two Vallis (chapters) lead to Bhrigu Valli (becoming a Guru) and thereby a becoming a Go-to person.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jul 30, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    A response is what you are experiencing as you take in the other and what s/he says or does. Your response is what you are feeling, sensing, thinking, imagining, and your expressing of it. A response is present and fluid. It's a personal sharing and tends to welcome the response of the other. One definition of an answer is that it is a solution and it typically is intellectual and impersonal. An answer is about an issue or subject, not about the person giving it. And as Rabbi Burger states, an answer tends to be definitive and closes down further discussion. Ferocity is fierce and cruel aggression. I don't value ferocity. I do value assertiveness and some non-fierce aggression. I think ferocity and tenderness don't balance -- they are either or. My effort is to balance assertiveness and non-fierce aggression with tenderness. Factors that help me to lead with a response include my motivation being right, the situation appearing to be right for me to respond, and my strongly ... [View Full Comment] A response is what you are experiencing as you take in the other and what s/he says or does. Your response is what you are feeling, sensing, thinking, imagining, and your expressing of it. A response is present and fluid. It's a personal sharing and tends to welcome the response of the other. One definition of an answer is that it is a solution and it typically is intellectual and impersonal. An answer is about an issue or subject, not about the person giving it. And as Rabbi Burger states, an answer tends to be definitive and closes down further discussion. Ferocity is fierce and cruel aggression. I don't value ferocity. I do value assertiveness and some non-fierce aggression. I think ferocity and tenderness don't balance -- they are either or. My effort is to balance assertiveness and non-fierce aggression with tenderness. Factors that help me to lead with a response include my motivation being right, the situation appearing to be right for me to respond, and my strongly feeling my response.[Hide Full Comment]

    2 replies: John, David | Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jul 30, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    An "answer" is definitive with no openness.It has no room for an open endeddiscussion and a dialogue. A responseis an invitation with an open mind and humility for self-examination. A response has an empathic and open-minded understanding of different perspectives instead of close-minded authoritarian stance: My way is the only right way and there is no other away of addressing and working on personal, interpersonal and collective questions and challenges. Morality is one of the core elements of personal, interpersonal and social well-being. The question is how am I relating to morality in my personal, interpersonal, and social life? Am I relating to morality in a ferocious and arrogant way or with empathy, humility and tenderness? I maintain a balance between being genuine and empathic, candid and kind.This is the way I practice morality in my personal and interpersonal life. There are times when I lose this dynamic balanceand judge myself and otherssomewhat harshly. Such e... [View Full Comment] An "answer" is definitive with no openness.It has no room for an open endeddiscussion and a dialogue. A responseis an invitation with an open mind and humility for self-examination. A response has an empathic and open-minded understanding of different perspectives instead of close-minded authoritarian stance: My way is the only right way and there is no other away of addressing and working on personal, interpersonal and collective questions and challenges.

    Morality is one of the core elements of personal, interpersonal and social well-being. The question is how am I relating to morality in my personal, interpersonal, and social life? Am I relating to morality in a ferocious and arrogant way or with empathy, humility and tenderness? I maintain a balance between being genuine and empathic, candid and kind.This is the way I practice morality in my personal and interpersonal life. There are times when I lose this dynamic balanceand judge myself and otherssomewhat harshly. Such experiences have made me realize that I am fallible and others too.We are not perfect. It is a learning process. We learn from our mistakes, forgive us and maintain the balance.

    Light of awareness, practicing mindfulness, maintainingthe balance between moral ferocity and humility and tenderness have been my helping companions.
    May we cultivate a balance between moral ferocity and humilityand tenderness.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave




    [Hide Full Comment]

    Post Your Reply

Search Awakin Readings

Or search by year, author, or category.

Subscribe to Weekly Email

Every week, we send out a digest with a reading and inspiring stories to our global community of 93,192 people. Subscribe below.

(unsubscribe)

Contact Us

If you'd like to suggest a thought or want to drop us a suggestion, drop us a note.