What an overreaction!

“What an overreaction!” This exclamation came from a man who consulted me about some business problems. He was alluding to a former customer of his who angrily left him for a competitor and also bad-mouthed him to others. “We were late on a delivery and off he went on a rant,” he continued. “What an overreaction!”

My gentle questioning revealed that my client had not personally called the aggrieved customer to apologize nor had he offered any kind of compensation. But what was far more interesting was that I discovered that this occurrence was not the first time my client had delivered appalling service to this customer. It was not even the second time. It was the third.

I told him, “Your customer didn’t leave you because of what happened this week. He left you because of what you did to him six weeks ago and again four weeks ago.” I wanted my client to understand that his customer’s reaction would have been an ‘overreaction’ had this been his first bad experience. Given that it was the third time, it wasn’t an overreaction at all. It was perfectly normal and understandable.

Here’s the general rule: Whenever you, or someone else, overreact it is quite likely that the real cause lies in the past.

Consider the story related in I Samuel, chapter 6. King David decides to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. “They placed the Ark of the Lord upon a new wagon…” (I Samuel 6:3) and on the way, the oxen pulling the wagon stumbled. To prevent the Ark sliding off the wagon, a man called Uzzah reached out and steadied the Ark.

God became angry at Uzzah and struck him…

and Uzzah died there by the Ark of God. – (I Samuel 6:7)

What an overreaction!

Indeed, had this been the whole story, it might seem an overreaction. But it isn’t the whole story.

In the seventh chapter of the Book of Numbers, Moses assigns specific tasks to the three sons of Levi. Their function was transporting the holy Tabernacle and all its vessels. He gave two wagons to Gershon and four wagons to Merari. These six wagons would be sufficient to carry everything with one exception—the Ark of the Covenant. This was to be carried upon the shoulders of the men of Kehat, Levi’s third son. For this reason, Kehat was provided with no wagons. The Ark was far too holy to be placed upon a wagon; it was always to be lovingly carried upon the shoulders of the men of Kehat.

Years later, the Ark was finally coming home to Jerusalem. The horrible period during which it had been held hostage by the Philistines was over. In the excitement of the moment, King David made a dreadful mistake. He allowed the Ark to be placed upon a wagon. Since this had been expressly prohibited by God, the situation was hair-trigger tense. No ordinary person like Uzzah was ever to touch the Ark. Even though his intentions were good, Uzzah paid the ultimate price for King David’s carelessness. (Why Uzzah paid the price rather than KIng David is a separate discussion.) The seeds of the problem were planted before the incident itself.

This kind of thing happens all the time. A parent severely reprimands a child for what in itself is a minor infraction. The child will only grow from the experience once he understands that previous infractions elevated this one into a major deal.

A building collapses because a minor safety code was ignored. Previous construction workers had also ignored seemingly minor regulations, leaving this one as the straw that broke the building’s back.

Major reactions rarely erupt spontaneously. Shaking our heads while saying, “What an overreaction,” leaves us upset when honest introspection would reveal that the problem was brewing for quite a while.

The time to plan for our own or our children’s relationship with the opposite sex is years in advance, making sure to properly build a structure that isn’t built on a flimsy base. Do yourself and those you love a favor and pick up Gila Manolson’s amazing book, Hands Off: This May Be Love at our start of summer sale price.

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