The Art of Taking The High Road
Columnist Amber Woods discusses the challenges of being presented many choices and choosing the right path.
With every decision in life, it seems there's always more than one path in which to take.
President Barack Obama was faced with one of these decisions just this week when he chose not to release photos of slain terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Was that an easy decision? I bet not. But the President's reasoning was sensical. He said he didn't think we (as a nation) needed to brag about our defeat. In other words, we're not an animalist culture where bin Laden's head may have been paraded around the streets on a stick. No, we're better than that.
But this conundrum isn't new. The art of choosing "the high road" goes back through history. Even Robert Frost wrote about the difficulty of choosing the best path in, "The Road Not Taken":
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
Frost knew, the more controversial or heart-wrenching the decision, the more difficult it is to choose the right path.
You all know what I'm talking about. It's the less-fun, often less instinctive path.
It's also something I've struggled with most of my life.
Despite a childhood-worth of attempts from my mother to calm my hot-headed nature and slow my temperament from a rampant boil to a slow simmer, being silent never came naturally to me (hence my career as an opinion columnist).
So throughout adolescence, before I mastered the art of "the high road," I took some hard knocks by being verbally reactive, or by trading tact for instant gratification.
It took me more than 18 years to learn I wasn't doing myself any favors taking the path I continued to choose.
The truth was, I wasn't making a stronger point by voicing every single thought that passed through my brain. I wasn't being opinionated and gracious in my remarks to people I disagreed with, I was simply being obnoxious.
I admit, to this day, when someone says something particularly inflammatory to me, I'm still a person who has to bite my lip or draft and re-draft a reply email before saving it to re-read the next morning before hitting the "send" button.
It is work for me not to say what I think.
Maybe it's something some people are born with? I imagine John F. Kennedy, Jr. came out of the womb radiating class. He probably spoke in measured sentences as a toddler, never eating his words as a teenager or having to muster up an apology for a careless remark.
But for the rest of us born without superhuman blood, it takes a hell of a lot of effort to be the person who takes the high road.
But, once I mastered the art of it, it continuously served me well in life.
It has landed me some of the most rewarding projects and jobs I've ever had, separating me from hundreds of other candidates who were all vying for the same role, but who didn't know when to shut their mouths.
It has also allowed me to avoid confrontational situations where I would have very well had the sand kicked out of me by women twice my size in bars I'm embarrassed to admit I frequented.
I've formulated my own version of what "taking the high road" means, and for me it's a combination of honestly, humbleness, and every once in awhile, replacing a sentence loaded with expletives with the simple phrase, "thank you so much for reading."
Proof that these types of formulas work could be seen in the city election last week, when the winners were announced.
All of those elected (or re-elected) to positions of mayor and city council were those who refrained from negative tactics when often presented the opportunity to react a million different ways.
Perhaps the best example of this came from newly elected City Councilwoman Barbara Wagner, who was questioned by Patch readers, and like many of the candidates, was scrutinized and dragged through the mud every once in a while.
Instead of reacting in a negative way, Wagner did the opposite. If someone posted a comment questioning her personal or political views or the way in which she ran her campaign, she consistently invited them to stop by her local business and speak with her in person.
Though there was plenty of bantering between readers about which candidate was best for the city, never once did the two men re-elected to city council, John Correri or Randy Craig, take to the internet to voice their concerns, positions or beliefs.
Instead, if they were reading comments on Patch, they remained silent.
Is that the best tactic? Well, I'm not sure. But it does remind me of the old adage, "If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all."
And the same tactic was used by Mayor Wayne Dougherty, who I know reads Patch frequently. Dougherty says he dislikes the anonymity of electronic communication, and would prefer to speak with people who contact him directly (in person or via email).
According to editor Sean Welsh, even students who participated in the Patch mayoral candidate debate voiced their preference of Dougherty over his opponent councilman Mitch Shank, because they felt a few of Shank's comments were too inflammatory.
So even though they may not yet be old enough to vote, the children in this area are clearly perceptive enough to see the benefit in being tactful (and isn't that refreshing)?
While using this forum as a way to voice opinions and concerns is exactly what the site is here for (as well as delivering you local news), I believe election results reiterated what I hope many of us learned from our elders:
When faced with two or more ways of handling a situation, it's best to choose the path that will either hurt the least amount of people, or if nothing else, leave your dignity and self respect in tact.