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A Case for Taking the High Road....

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

"Conflict cannot survive when only one person participates."

Unknown, but I wish I'd said it.

The other day I backed my car out of a retail parking space and turned onto the wide, one lane road in front of me. I picked up the hands-free call from my brother and we chatted a minute - until the long, loud blast of a car horn startled me from the conversation. The driver behind me revved the gas and recklessly speeded up on the shoulder to pass me. Once in front, he immediately slowed down, opened his window.... and flipped me a high, slow bird.

Well then…

I felt my eyes narrow with indignation. Karma had its moment, however, as the traffic light in front of us immediately turned red, forcing him to stop. I pulled into the left lane beside him, debating whether or not to unleash the sharp words that had flooded my mouth, or just shoot him my most piercing dagger eyes.

And then I paused and thought for a moment.

I had a choice about how I handled this moment, didn’t I? I could add fuel to the road rage fire, or I could take the high road. I opened my passenger-side window, took a deep breath and said, “I am so sorry if I accidentally cut you off. My Dad just died and I was talking with my brother.” I watched as he hesitated, caught off guard, his eyes blinking as his brain processed this unexpected information. Finally, he nodded an acknowledgement, gave a half-quirked smiled and revved away.

My friend Pete flew across country to help care for his aging mother, who is declining rapidly due to diabetes. Assuming he could handle her care, he scheduled just a few hours of professional, paid nursing services. Upon spending a day with her, however, he quickly realized his mom’s care requirements were way above his pay grade, and his capabilities. He called the private nursing company and asked for immediate 24/7 hour help. The service rep who answered, clearly frustrated with the last minute, high demand request, sighed audibly on the line, clucking her tongue in disapproval.

“I was so mad,” Pete told me later. “I mean, this is their job to help families like me at a stressful time and she was so condescending, acting like it’s all a big inconvenience.”

“So, what did you do?” I asked.

“Well, I called the manager, intent on giving him an earful about his rude employee. But as I waited on hold, I saw the situation from her perspective. Granted, I had no idea my Mom would need that level of care. But that rep was juggling a lot of schedules and caregivers and desperate families. I’m sure it was stressful. So, when her manager answered, I told him what a great job his rep did, finding me quality care with almost no notice.”

This particular scenario had happy ripple effects. The next time Pete called the rep to schedule care, what kind of response do you think he got? Buoyed by the praise her manager had passed along from Pete, instead of being annoyed, the rep did cartwheels to help him get his preferred caregivers.

It’s easy to take the low road.

Someone pushes us and we push back. We automatically defend or attack, letting our emotions take over logic and values with a knee-jerk reaction. And we so want to be right.

Taking the low road comes from weakness.

But taking the high road?

Taking the high road requires pausing, taking a breath and actually thinking through your response and it’s consequences before acting.

Taking the high road requires courage, empathy and, sometimes, humility.

Taking the high road comes from strength.

Lately, it feels like our world has gone off the rails. The news keeps its steady, 24/7 drumbeat report of divisiveness, anger, global atrocities and horrific retribution. It’s easy to slide into a feeling of helplessness:

“I’m one person. What can I possibly do?”

But all change starts with action. And action starts locally - in our homes, in our workplace, in our community and, yes, on our roads. Change starts with one person, one action at a time.

  • What if, instead of reacting to anger with anger, we took a breath and asked ourselves a better question, “I’m one person. What can I do that’s possible?”

  • What if we assumed that everyone is fighting a secret battle of some sort, and responded with kindness instead of indignation?

  • What if we met anger with empathy?

That ill-mannered driver I encountered may have been going through an especially tough time in his life, to over-react like that.

Or, maybe he was just a jerk.

But one thing’s for sure, pushing back on anger with anger only escalates the vitriol. It certainly doesn’t diffuse it.

The next time someone reacts harshly to you,

can you blindside them with kindness?

  • Beth made cookies for the neighbors who neglected to invite her to a “girlfriend” function.

  • Dan picked up the phone and called his brother, compassion in his voice, in response to a harsh text.

  • Barbara wrote a letter to her nasty neighbor whom she saw every day, owning her part in the escalation of tensions, and calling on both to be the good neighbors she knew them to be.

Every day, we have choices about how we respond to the events and people around us.

What if, next time you’re in doubt, you took a breath and chose the high road?

How would that make you feel?

What kind of ripple effects might that have?

Decide Happy Challenge

Just for today (or maybe longer), if someone does something that irks you:

  1. STOP!

  2. Take a breath.

  3. Instead of just reacting, ask yourself, “How can I take the high road?”

  4. Act from a place of strength, compassion and empathy.

If we all took the high road even just a little more frequently,

what impact would that have in our world?

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1 Comment

Another great piece, Susan. It reminds me of Michael Doyle's wise words: "do your bit. You may not be able to do everything to make a difference. But, you can 'do your bit'".


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