Take the Higher Road? How? Why?

Take the Higher Road? How? Why?

“Take the higher road!”

Have you ever heard that saying? Of course… but, have you ever stopped for a moment to truly reflect on exactly what it means? On the surface it seems pretty easy to comprehend… but, like an iceberg, is there more hidden beneath the surface?  Could these four simple words translate into a far deeper meaning? Or is the true intent and meaning far simpler than one might initially think?

Recently I was put into a situation where “taking the higher road” was really difficult. Heated emotions and a good ‘ole helping of my sometimes overactive ego sent me into a tailspin. Usually I have NO problem at all with setting aside my ego and rising above the occasion… but this particular event really put me at a crossroads.

Thinking back through my life, several events came to mind where I “took the higher road” – but, this particular incident was different. In this particular instance I was flooded by three very powerful emotions: disappointment, resent, and rage. So, why was this event different?

Recognizing that such intense emotions can often lead to knee-jerk reactions, as a human, our first inclination is to run – remember fight or flight is an ingrained human survival mechanism.

During a heated debate or argument, the increased cortisol and adrenaline levels in the brain often serve to flood us and wash us on to the low road. This creates further feelings of stress, anxiety, and tension – often forcing us into a defensive mode.

So… how does one reconcile the often immediate feelings against doing the right thing?

Easy – take an offensive position. Those emergency feelings of fight or flight are a clear signal that you are on the low road. When you notice that you are shaking with anger, it is a clear sign that you need to let yourself feel the fear, disappointment, and sadness. FEEL the emotions. Become one with all of the sensations.

But you might be thinking that “feeling” the emotions won’t fix the issue… nor will it steer your moral compass in the proper direction… You are exactly correct! It’s not solely about your thoughts or feelings… but rather about your actions!

Observing and acknowledging that I am angry, disappointed and resentful doesn’t automatically mean that the low road has been taken. My actions are what dictates that. It’s the words I choose to attack back thinking that I am righting the wrong done to me.

Often it takes time to process through all the emotions, especially when there is a history of compounding events and occurrences that play into the equation. Perhaps that is that what made this event different and more difficult for me than usual?

Regardless of why, one’s response and actions should always be congruent with taking the higher road.

John C. Maxwell explains that there are three roads that we can take in life:

  • The low road – where we treat people worse than they treat us
  • The middle road – where we treat people the same as they treat us
  • The high road – where we treat people better than they treat us

Instead of having our values and behaviors impacted by others, we can influence the values and behaviors of those around us when we take the higher road.

Peace can be found in taking the higher road, but if we are continually finding ourselves in situations where we are repeatedly having to analyze our thoughts and emotions and take the higher road, then it is probably time to take a hard look at the environment and relationships where this is occurring.

Taking the higher road is absolutely NOT about allowing ourselves to be trodden on like a doormat though. There are times where it is necessary for us to protect ourselves by deleting, distancing or moving away from what has become virulent while still coming from a place of forgiveness and taking the higher road.

“Take the high road, there’s a lot less traffic up there.” – Phillip C. McGraw (Dr. Phil)