Being the bigger person, and its side effects

bigger person

Life isn’t fair. I often wish it was, and I try to be as fair as possible, but it seems that several times for week (and sometimes per day) I’m reminded just how unfair life is. The hardest working people don’t always get the promotion. The assholes don’t always get what’s coming to them and the kindest most generous people can get dread diseases or struck down in their prime. Even in our own relationships, things aren’t always (ever?) fair. Which is why we all teach our kids to be the bigger person, or at least, I hope other people are teaching their kids that, too.

I remember being taught it in some ways. Being taught not to stoop to other people’s levels, to take the higher path, to be the bigger person. If someone is a bully, don’t bully them back but rather understand where they’re coming from, assert yourself and then move on. Don’t hold a grudge or dwell on past slights, but move forward. It’s like that Michelle Obama quote, “When they go low, we go high”, and it’s an important lesson that applies to more than bullies, but just those who go low in general. But there’s a sad side effect of it, too.

But let’s start with being the bigger person. I remember when my father and I were initially estranged, I would try and reach out to him, write him letters or call him. And after each time that I was rebuffed, I would phone my mom in tears, and I would wonder why I tried. It was so painful to be rejected, that it made me wish I could take it back, take back being the peacemaker, take back being the bigger person. Over time, though, I’ve learned that it’s not about the other person’s response. Yes, I’m reaching out with the goal of making peace, or of being supportive or whatever else, but if someone refuses that doesn’t mean I should wish to take back that initial act of kindness. That’s not what it’s about.

Recently, I was frustrated and upset, and I could feel my brain going in circles. How would it go if things were reversed? What would the other people do in my shoes? And I was going down the list of all things I do and how unfair it was. Thankfully, I took the next opportunity to do some yoga and breathe my way through it. And as I sunk down into my yogic squat and let everything go, I realized that I wasn’t going to retaliate, I wasn’t going to “show them”, but I would be the bigger person. That despite being small in stature, I am generally the bigger person, and that’s okay. It’s not fair, but move on and all that.

The sad thing is, my very next thought wasn’t about the impending reaction to being the bigger person. It wasn’t my old thing of “well, they’d better appreciate and notice that I’m taking the higher ground”. Instead, I felt a new awareness, a new perception, sort of like a sadness about the other person’s limited capability in this area. Every time that I’m the bigger person, it makes me wonder about the other, “smaller” person. It’s not to say that I consider myself better than someone else, but I do realize that other people have different capacities… and maybe there is some judgement there.

It’s a sad, sorry side effect of going high, of being the bigger person. When they go low, we go high, but then we end up looking down on those others. When we are the bigger person, they are inevitably the smaller people. And life isn’t fair, and I never want to be judgemental. I have great empathy for what other people can go through, and yet at a certain point I believe that we all need to rise above those things. We can’t use our friends and family as emotional punching bags – we need to deal with our own crap instead of passing it on to the next person. Life isn’t fair, it never has been, and the world needs less pettiness, not more of it.

As Harley grows up, I want her to learn about being the bigger person, about rising above and behaving in a way that is kind, generous and authentic, even when life isn’t fair. Obviously I also want her to be confident, assertive and stand up for herself, but being the bigger person isn’t about being a doormat – it’s about not sinking to the level of other people. It’s an example I hope to set for her; I will continue to strive to be the bigger (better?) person. It’s just hard to do it repeatedly without changing my view of those who are stooping to that level. But maybe that’s just the smaller person inside me being petty.


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