The High Road

I was recently in a tough situation — perhaps the toughest situation I have ever faced. Indeed, to an extent I am still in that situation, but am deferring the rest of it until later while I process what has happened. After the dust had settled, I was left considering one thing: what had happened was a necessary part of my personal development. Indeed, what had happened was out of my control and was an unreasonable reaction, but I chose to see it differently. I realized that it is in times of struggle where our principles are truly tested. It is difficult to develop principles like integrity and practice them in our life, sure. But the real challenge comes when you face adversity and have a choice to make: stick with your principles, or take the easy route. I chose to stick to my principles in the aforementioned situation. This meant that I ended up taking the high road — doing what I knew would diffuse the situation, even if it meant my showing some vulnerability.

Take The High Road

We have all been in a position where someone says something rude or makes a remark that hits our core. Most of us would use this as an opportunity to say something of equal — or indeed escalated — proportion to that person, in exchange for their treating us in such a manner. The problem with doing this is that we are not doing anything to resolve the situation — we are fighting back. And so the situation is likely to get worse, and cause even more pain for all parties involved. Someone may spill a drink on our new shirt, and our first reaction is to shout at them and demand that they pay us for a new shirt. Rather than acting in this manner, we should instead take the high road — do what is right, even if it costs us some of our ego. In the aforementioned example, perhaps you say that it wasn’t their fault and that perhaps you could have been more aware of your surroundings. By responding in this way, the situation will not escalate and you are able to establish a better and more well-founded connection with the other person.

The truth is that most of us underestimate the power of the high road. I had always thought that taking the high road was the right thing to do, but it was only when I was in a difficult situation that I truly realized the importance of doing so. The first benefit of choosing the high road is that by doing so, you are able to take command over the situation. If you are the person who is willing to set aside their ego to achieve a good outcome for everyone, then you are able to guide the future of the discussion or situation.

Focus on De-Escalation

Let’s say that you were talking with someone about a controversial topic at work. If someone makes an unreasonable claim, rather than act on it, you could instead let it go and make a structured rebuttal to their claim. You could have promptly responded in a hostile manner stating how unreasonable their claim is, but that would leave you with no power. The other person would take over the conversation and would proceed to tell you why you are wrong, and then the conversation would continue in that direction. But if you took the high road — were willing to set aside your ego and took a step back to evaluate the discussion — then you have the ability to guide the future of the situation. You are in control.

Another benefit of taking the high road is that oftentimes, when people act in a manner we do not like, it is because of something completely out of our control. Let’s say that the barista forgets to add the second shot of espresso to our coffee. We could immediately respond and say that the person has messed up, or we could instead politely state that we think they have made a mistake. In the latter, we are de-escalating the situation and taking control; in the former, we are escalating the situation and are not engaging in a productive conversation with the barista.

Perhaps the barista was just bad at their job. Or, more likely, the barista may have been having a bad day. Perhaps they found out that their property was about to be repossessed, or their last five customers were also rude and they had a headache. If we were to provide a hostile response, that would only make them feel worse. Taking the high road, however, allows us to engage in a more productive discussion. Maybe the barista apologizes and tells you that they have had a tough day — that may even result in a free coffee for you. In sum, taking the high road allows you to account for any problems outside of your control, which will help you de-escalate the situation.

The High Road is Positive

Taking the high road can also make us feel happy. Taking the low road often means shouting, being hostile, or adding no value to a conversation in the name of defending our beliefs. Taking the high road, however, allows us to work toward a meaningful resolution and address all of the issues that have caused a certain situation in-depth. If we take the high road, we are more likely to yield a productive outcome, which will make us feel great. If we were to take the low road, we will only have more fights to take on. It is hard to be angry at someone for a long time, and so taking the high road is often a major investment in our mental health — we no longer need to think about how to respond to the other person.

Taking the high road is difficult. It requires us to be willing to appear vulnerable and to be the first one to take a step back and evaluate a situation. However, the results of taking the high road are sometimes extraordinary. If someone has been having a bad day, taking the high road can make them feel a little bit better about themselves, without engaging them in a hostile discussion. We will also have more control over a situation on the high road — the reward for being the first to take a step back — and so are more likely to achieve our desired outcome. The people who take the high road always go farther than those who take the low road: those on the high road easily make friends, those on the low road do not. Indeed, it requires us to set aside our ego, which can be difficult. But sacrificing your ego in a moment can often be the best way to reach your desired outcome.

Try to de-escalate every situation. Understand that we will never know everyone’s motives for being angry — perhaps they are just having a bad day. Take the high road.

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