Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Veering Off the High Road

When I was a kid and other kids picked on me or teased me (or were downright mean) to me about being overweight, my parents always told me to take the high road. That's a credo that I've attempted to follow all of my life, no matter how difficult it is to do sometimes.

The high road is not the easy path. For one thing, you have to trudge uphill to reach it. Once you're there, you have to slog your way through mud, rock slides, pot holes and other less savory things that are all intent on tripping you up during the journey so that you and your good intentions fall flat on your face.

It was particularly difficult when I was younger and, like most adolescents and teens, possessed less impulse control. I also had a temper, so every side trip to the high road was a lesson in not letting anger get away from me. There's good points and bad to that approach. Lashing out every time someone pisses us off isn't a constructive way to interact with others. Holding in the anger and trekking up that hill to the high road doesn't always achieve the best results.

Case in point, when I was 10, my family and I lived in France. My older brother and I went to a private school for American kids. There were a couple of girls in my home room who had been there for a few years. Since they were also on the far side of chubby, they were overjoyed to have a "new girl" to pick on. Smartly, they realized it was a glass classroom, so they didn't throw stones about my weight. Instead, they tried to make me feel bad because their fathers worked in the diplomatic corps and my father was, wait for it, only a doctor. Can you cross the t and dot the i in bitches along with me? I was incensed at the disrespect shown to my father. He only laughed when I relayed the tale of the grievous insult and told me to ignore them and, yes, take the high road.

I put more miles on that damned high road that year than a coast-to-coast trucker. Then February rolled around and the entire school closed for vacation, with most students going on school-sponsored ski trips. My best friend and I were on the same trip as my nemeses and the Fates had a good laugh when the four of us somehow ended up sharing a room. My high road taking must have frustrated them but, smelling fresh vulnerable meat, they turned on my friend. She was a quiet, timid girl who'd never gone on an away trip from her family before and was homesick. I warned them and warned them to stop teasing her, but they persisted until she began to cry great, heartbroken tears. When I ordered them to back off, they told me they could say and do anything they wanted -- including splitting us up because my father was only a doctor.

I snapped, saying something close to, "Your diplomatic fathers can't help you now." Then I picked up my heavy wooden hairbrush and went after the one girl. No, I didn't seriously beat her, but I got in several smacks before reason returned and I stopped. They never bullied me or my friend again.

Do I advocate violence as a solution? No. Do I think I would have been better served if I'd learned more effective techniques for conflict resolution other than relying on the power of taking the high road? Yes.

The thing with the high road is that it just removes you from the conflict. It doesn't take you to any definitive destination. You just keep walking until the conflict passes and then you resume your regularly plotted route -- until the next time something happens and you detour again.

I'm a long way away from that 10 year old. Most of the time these days, I can both take the high road and find an effective way to resolve a situation that doesn't involve beating someone with a hair brush. There are even times when I can shrug and release the annoyance.

Then there are times like today. Someone made some, I think, petty critiques of a volunteer project in which I was involved. Instead of immediately responding, I sprinted for the high road. Good thing because my initial thought, upon hearing the critique was, "Then you effing take on the project next time."

Securely perched up here on the hill, I'm giving myself 24 hours before I craft a written response. It will be diplomatic and calm and I will make my points without being angry, mean or bitchy. I promise.

Until then, I give myself permission to think of the road not traveled; the one littered with responses like, "Kiss my ass".


Hope said...

My Mom taught me the art of the snappy comeback. It took years to really "take," but it's served me well.

lora96 said...

Good for you with the discretion and cooling off period as an adult. As for being ten, that bitch needed someone to draw the line and I think you showed considerable restraint.

If not the actual high road, I try to take the shutting-up road at work when necessary as in NOT addressing a negligent and enraged parent as "you ignorant ho-bag" which was my first instinct.