Reality Check: The Value of Taking the High Road

In this continuing series on helpful values that seldom make the news, this column’s value is “taking the high road.” Does that get the tune for The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond running through your mind?

You might express this value as, “doing the right thing,” “being the bigger person,” or observing a moral code.

Choice theory suggests that we control our own behaviour; all that other people can do is offer information to us. However, if you’ve ever been criticized or opposed, then you know that it can be difficult to choose to perceive that you have been “offered information,” rather than personally attacked.

Criticism that comes in a professional or work setting is difficult enough, but if it comes from a loved one—a friend or even a partner—it’s not uncommon to choose to feel devastated.

One response that folks often choose is to strike back. “You’ve hurt me, now I will hurt you. In fact, I think I’ll up the ante, because you started it!”

Does that help? Typically, no.  Instead, the conflict escalates, people choose deliberately unkind things to say, and what may have started as a minor disagreement can end up in job loss, marriage breakup, or the loss of a friendship.

What would be more effective?

It can take a real effort of will (and practice) to remember that what you’ve heard is only information; you get to choose what you do with it.

Even if you are absolutely certain that someone has intended to hurt you with a personal attack, you can decide, if you choose, to take it as if it were intended to provide useful information.

For example, you’ve done something you now recognize as not having been very smart.  Your boss/wife/friend tells you, “That was a stupid thing to do! What were you thinking?”

Hurts, doesn’t it? Even though your intention might have been to make things better, the result didn’t pan out as you had hoped. In retrospect, you might even agree that your action was not the best.

So, you have choices. You can bluster, defend, and argue, “You’re always at me; I can’t do anything right for you….”

Or you can choose to take the high road. “I was trying to make this better. What would you suggest I do instead?”

If you choose to value “taking the high road,” then this value can help you decide how to respond in uncomfortable situations. But how do you know what the high road is?

The Golden Rule is a pretty good all-purpose guide, isn’t it? If you choose to treat others as you would like them to treat you, and you maintain awareness of that as a value, then you are not so likely to lash out. After all, who wants someone to lash out at them?

If, while reading this, you’ve been humming, “Ye’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road” and you’d like to stop, remember that it is easier to replace than to stop. Try humming something else. And good luck with that…

Do you think that taking the high road is always effective?

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