I am a long-time fan of the high road.
No, wait. I should revise that. When I was a teenager, and when I was in my early 20s, I followed my gut instinct with loud passion. I spoke up for myself and for others who couldn't speak up for themselves. At times, I did so and faced consequences of loss of friendship or punishment (like the time my chorus teacher told me I didn't need to root for every underdog I ever met). Nevertheless, I kept on speaking up and speaking out. And usually the result was that more drama was created in my attempts to make things better.
As I left my twenties and as I grew as a mother and teacher, I realized that the small stuff really is just small stuff, and that I do not need to comment on everything I notice the moment I notice it. This happens in class all the time. A student might be on his phone during class. I think, OK, maybe there is something going on that he needs to focus on today. I'll ignore it. Then it happens again the next day. And the next. So, I mention it. I point out privately to the kid that his divided attention is not going to help him succeed in class. I ask if there is anything bothering him, or anything I should know about. I don't take it personally. I don't throw a fit about it. The results are usually much more effective than if I did.
The same goes with my children. I was often criticized for not discipling the kids enough, for not being strict enough, but I find that a rational conversation with a reasonable child who has taken some time to calm down in his room works much better than a shouting match ever will. I found this out the hard way, and over time. I won't ever say I did everything right. I won't ever say I do everything right now. But, I do reflect a lot and I try to adapt my parenting techniques as I go so that my children are able to respect me -- and therefore, they want to obey me.
Now that I am in my mid-thirties (and yes, I realize more than anyone that I still have a lot of learning and growing to do!), I find myself a big fan of the high road. I have discovered over time that there is no need to respond to every criticism, to every false accusation, to every irrational comment that is made about me. I am the kind of person who puts myself out there, who tries new things, who fails at new things on occasion, who succeeds at new things on occasion. This makes me a target for others who resent my extroverted, creative spirit.
About 10 years ago, before I started teaching, I dealt with one of the most irrational women I have ever met in my life. This woman wasn't just irrational. She had wealth and power -- and she knew how to throw it around. I sought out the advice of many wise people in my life, from my parents to friends to my priest, and I found that when I took the high road, the truth eventually came to light because that's how truth works. The woman's accusations and rumors quickly died out because of her reputation for being vindictive and manipulative. She tried to destroy my reputation, and she came away looking like a fool.
My priest encouraged me to remain positive and thankful because most people don't go through those kind of difficult trials when they are 25, and he told me I would be better for it when the dust settled. He was absolutely right. I came away stronger and wiser, and I am not easily intimidated. I couldn't see it at the time, but I did benefit from dealing with what was a horribly stressful situation.
Since the divorce, and since my getting together with Gene, I have stuck to the high road like it's my job. It's interesting how people who had no idea what your personal life was like won't allow that lack of knowledge prevent them from offering advice or judgment about it. I haven't responded to the criticisms that have reached my ears. They don't matter to me. What does matter to me is my future and that of my children.
The same goes for my relationship with Gene. There are a few people who talk about me, even though they know what they are saying is not true. I get it. These people are hurt and they can't face reality. These people are jealous that we are happy and normal. These people would rather attempt to smear my name and his by spreading wild accusations about us. It is what it is. I wish that their healing process didn't involve spreading toxic lies, but that's out of my control. What I can control is how I respond. That is, how I don't respond. Why don't I? Because everyone I know and love knows the truth. That's enough for me.
Here's the best part: there is such a peace that comes with not responding. The high road is a beautifully tranquil place. When I don't allow the behavior of others to affect my mood -- whether it's the kid on the cell phone or the couple of people who tell lies about me as a hobby -- the result is amazing. I am able to focus on my family, on my career, on my life.
Now, you might be thinking, "Why don't you speak up for yourself? Why don't you confront people who lie about you?" I don't want you to think I don't EVER do that. There will come a time when I pushed beyond my limits, and I will speak out -- especially if I feel my children or Gene are being attacked beyond what is simply considered petty. I will fight tooth and nail when I need to. I just have a much clearer sense of when I really need to. People's silly rumors aren't really worth my time.
My favorite contemporary author, Elizabeth Gilbert, recently wrote a Facebook post about a relationship she is in, and I completely loved this part: "The truth has legs; it always stands. When everything else in the room has blown up or dissolved away, the only thing left standing will always be the truth. Since that's where you're gonna end up anyway, you might as well just start there."
Isn't that fabulous and true and profound? I take the high road because the truth will stand. The truth will prevail. It always does. People's true colors eventually shine through. All it takes is time and patience. The hypocrite will trip up and be caught doing something she once condemned. The liar won't be able to keep his stories straight. The manipulator will be seen working an angle.
And you will be there, loving your family and living your life, oblivious to it all. See you on the high road!