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Being The Bigger Person

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

Sometimes living on the same planet as 9 billion other people feels egregious. Of course we can't get along. Of course there are wars and destitution. Of course people hurl themselves off bridges. People are terrible, especially when we don't think we are.

Once, a woman slammed her shopping cart into the back of my parked car, then yelled at me, for being in her way. Just last week, I witnessed a woman scream at a flight attendant due to a ten-minute delay. The bathrooms on the plane were malfunctioning and this woman thought, quite adamantly, that they didn't need fixing. We could all piss ourselves for all she cared, she had an appointment to get to.

Once, a man followed me in his car while I was running, and I ducked into a gas station to get rid of him. On a separate run, I witnessed a man pleasuring himself in a city park. After he noticed me noticing him, he screamed incoherently, white foam pouring from the corners of his mouth. Once, I watched a husband and wife fight in the middle of a crowded street, their children (and about 80 onlookers) staring at them as their voices rose higher, too high, so goddamned high. I wondered what was wrong with them. I wondered what was wrong with me.

It's easy to be the bigger person when the person you have to act bigger than is a stranger. Chances are you'll never see them again. But what if the person you have to bite your tongue around is your spouse, or your grandmother, or your preacher? What if it's your boss, or your employees, or your child?

"Being the bigger person" sounds nice, and a bit self-congratulatory. If I think I'm being the bigger person, I feel good about me, whether or not my self-perception is correct.

I wanted to know what being the bigger person looks like in practice, and I suppose it looks something like this:

1. Being more logical and less emotional.

When the woman was yelling at the flight attendant about bathrooms and flight delays, the flight attendant simply lowered her own voice, offered the angry woman a bag of pretzels and bottle of water, assured her that the delay would be minor, and reminded her how nice it is to pee. The flight attendant countered an emotional response with logic, much like a parent does when disciplining a child.

2. Accept that you cannot change someone or their mind.

This is easier said than done, but it simply does no good to argue with someone who cannot or will not listen to you, which is why you should never argue with anyone online, or engage with random Twitter bots. You have better things to do with your time than argue with anyone who is too stubborn and close-minded to change.

3. Think before reacting.

The couple I saw fighting on the street were not thinking before reacting at all. They were not logical, nor were they accepting their differences. They were simply fighting fire with fire and scarring their children at the same time. Taking the time to consider your words and actions will prevent you from having to back peddle and apologize. It might also prevent you from engaging in a screaming match with your partner on the street.

4. Try to understand the other person's perspective.

Easier said than done, no? If you've ever disagreed with anyone, you probably understand the utility of seeing their side of things if your goal is to come to a peaceful and/or useful resolution. Or maybe it's up to you to try to understand someone else's point of view, even if they don't care to understand yours.

5. Make sure you can handle your emotions in a healthy way.

If you think the world is working against you, you're sabotaging yourself. I used to go to boxing classes to release pent up frustration. I've also gone to therapy, and now I run many hundreds of miles to manage my mental and emotional health. You cannot be the bigger person without working on yourself first.

6. Take responsibility for your actions or mistakes.

It can be hard and humbling to admit that you were wrong. It can be uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing, but it's good for the ego to take a hit every now and then. Nobody is perfect, and the ability to admit to your mistakes will make you more likeable and more forgiving toward the mistakes of others.

7. Be curious and empathetic, but not a pushover.

Sometimes people can be too empathetic and too compassionate. There is a fine line between having empathy and being walked all over. The ability to tell when someone is earnest or full of bullshit is a learned skill, but it's powerful. People respect people who respect themselves, and nobody respects a pushover.

8. Don't hold grudges.

Grudges hurt the person holding them the most. If you want to be upset, you will be, and there's nothing worse than tearing open old wounds. Let them heal, and move on. It is petty and small-minded to ruminate on past wrong-doings, but that doesn't mean that you need to let those who hurt you keep on hurting you. Set your boundaries, let go of your grudges, and move on.

P.S. Watch this video from Gary Vee about being the bigger person, read a psychologists take on the matter here, or watch a video about emotional maturity here.


Sarah Rose

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