If you are of a certain age, you might remember the occasional interruption we used to have when watching television. Unexpectedly, the show would stop, the screen would go blank, and then you would see and hear these words, “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test. If this […]
We live in a world in which taking the high road is not valued. Even our president has tweeted, “When someone attacks me, I always attack back…except 100x more. This has nothing to do with a tirade but rather, a way of life!” Our culture values retaliation and vengeance. It is in our politics, our movies, and our music.
In the Republican primaries leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Jeb Bush was criticized for not retaliating when attacked by his opponents. He wanted to discuss the issues instead of insulting his opponents. Surprisingly, his approach was not viewed as a sign of maturity. Rather, it was viewed as a sign of weakness.
The problem with this attitude is that vengeance and retaliation don’t produce greater personal happiness. Nor do they lead to a better world. Just the opposite.
If you want to ultimately be at peace with yourself (and ultimately be a happier person), then you need to become adept at taking the high road. Moreover, if we collectively want to live in a world which is gentle and peaceful, we have to stop prizing vengeance and start valuing restraint.
The reality is that there always will be people in this world who will hurt you, either intentionally or unintentionally. No one goes through life unscathed. The only question before you is this: How will I react when someone hurts me? If someone insults me, will I respond with a cruel comment? If someone physically hurts me, will I do more than simply defend myself? Will I try to inflict even greater injury on that person?
Taking the high road requires a great deal of maturity and self-control. For example, I have the ability to verbally cut people down to size pretty quickly. In my head, unfortunately, can swirl some very nasty, direct comments. But I don’t express them. I don’t let the unsavory thoughts in my head come out of my mouth. Why? Because on the rare occasion when I put someone in their place, I don’t feel very good about myself afterward. I am filled with regret.
Jesus, who in my opinion is the greatest psychologist of all time, understood this concept. In the book of Matthew, he states,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” Matthew 5:38-40 (NIV)
Jesus’ examples are extreme, but he is making a point. What he effectively is saying is that you are far better off suffering injustice than retaliating and inflicting injury on another person. Retaliation doesn’t make your life any better. Yes, you may feel a momentary sense of happiness from hurting the person who hurt you. But ultimately, hurting others chips away at your soul.
Now I am not suggesting that we simply permit people to run around freely hurting others. Of course, there are there some people who need to be controlled. That is why we have prisons. But the purpose of prisons should not be for society to exact its revenge on someone. Prisons are there to restrict the freedoms of people who are dangerous to others. And the goal is to release them once they are no longer a threat.
The same holds true for certain wars. The purpose of World War II was to control and subdue a group of people (the Nazis) who were a danger to another group (the Jewish people). There is no point in going to war simply to seek revenge on another group. It has to be for the purpose of creating a safer society.
Civilized, mature people don’t automatically retaliate when attacked. We take the high road. My daughter refers to this as “staying in your own lane.” She is a big proponent of simply working hard, doing her best, and ignoring the negative comments of those around her. She isn’t running around trying to “correct” others or put people in their place. She just stays in her own lane. I love that attitude, especially from a young person.
My husband often says that the key to life is to “like they guy you look at in the mirror when you shave in the morning.” You can’t like who you see in the mirror if you retaliate and hurt other people – no matter how you justify your behavior to yourself. There is only one way to like yourself. You have to be kind, gracious and mature at all times – and in all circumstances.
The blessing of taking the high road is that it allows you to “like the guy you see in the mirror.” When we choose kindness over vengeance, we feel better about ourselves. While the world would have us retaliate, we can feel good knowing that we are holding ourselves up to a higher standard of behavior.
The blessing of taking the high road, ultimately, is that if we all choose patience over vengeance, we will live in a more peaceful world. We will live in a world in which decisions are not made from immaturity and frustration, but from maturity and kindness. I suspect in that world, there will be significantly less conflict, war, and violence.
It all starts with a simple choice: Am I going to take the high road when someone hurts me, or am I going to retaliate? Am I going to hold myself to the highest standard of behavior, or am I going to be an average person? The choice is yours.
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