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Equal and opposite reactions

Push and pull. Up and down. Back and forth. How often have we felt this type of dynamic? In conversation, in relationships, in our lives, and in everyday interactions, there's a give and a get.

In both positive and negative ways, we respond to each other. We give hugs when we get hugs. We approach others who seem like they are friendly already. We call those who call us back. We give a kind word when we get one. Virtuous cycles beget more virtuous cycles.

And on the non-virtuous side of cycles? Well, he did it first, didn't he? Or we say, "it's because she did that, that I told her off." We say "you're welcome" to "thank you," and get pissed off when one of those niceties isn't returned.

Newton's third law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In scientific terms, this means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on any two objects that are interacting. The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object.

Easy enough to understand in a scientific way. When we sit on a chair, we push down on the chair as the chair exerts an upward pressure on us, holding us in place. Or when a bird flies, it pushes the air and the air friction helps it get aloft. 

How can Newton's third law be applied to help us in everyday relationships, in order to be kinder?

Quite simply, we have to break Newton's third law in an emotional manner. If we simply respond to kindness with equal kindness, then we are not creating any net new kindness. If we respond to anger with anger, we are staying in that cycle. If we honk at the car that's tailgating us, we feel good in that moment that we let them know we're annoyed, but we're not making any headway in the world.

It can feel extreme to respond to an angry person with a kind smile or a kind word. It can feel extreme to respond to anger even with neutral silence. It feels like a violation of the emotional version of Newton's law, and that's because it is.

Radical empathy requires a reimagining of another person's experience as our own. Can we try to be radically kind, in service of stepping outside of the cycle? Only with our imaginations is it possible. But once we start to use them, anything is possible. We can reach new heights together.

Maybe we can even break the fundamental laws of nature. At least on an emotional level.

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