The Mandatory Guide to Going High When They Go Low (But Can We Go Just a Little Low?)
Try to remember back to July 2016, when we thought politics was at a low point. (Ha! If only we knew how low it would go!) At the Democratic National Convention, then-First Lady Michelle Obama took to the podium and gave one of the most moving speeches ever, from which one line stuck with everyone who was watching: “When they go low, we go high.”
The phrase is one Michelle and Barack Obama had to employ over and over again while in the White House as they were viciously attacked by right-wing nut-jobs – one of whom became the next president. Now, in the midst of another contentious election season, we find ourselves clinging to that motto…and kind of wishing we didn’t always have to be the only ones going high. (It’s lonely up here.) But we’re going to keep trying because the alternative is…well, President Trump. And nobody aspires to that.
“Going high isn’t just about the fight you want to win, but it’s also about the person you want to be — and the kind of country you want to have,” Michelle Obama said in a follow-up interview on her now trademark phrase. Lofty goals, indeed.
How do you keep going high despite the cesspool dwellers trying to pull you down to their depraved level? This guide will help you stay on the right (by which we mean “proper”) side of dignity – and history.
Cover Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP (Getty Images)
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Stick to the facts.
Arm yourself with facts and stick to them. Attacking someone's character doesn't only reflect poorly on them, it reflects poorly on you, too. If you're having an intelligent debate, only rational arguments will persuade the other side. Name-calling, belittling behavior, or intimidation tactics are for unprepared people.
Do not respond out of anger.
Anger doesn't help you win arguments. In fact, it fuels the kind of regrettable rhetoric that you'll be kicking yourself for later. If you're angry, take a step back, take a breath, take a break. Wait until you've cooled down to engage in the conversation.
Hopefully, whoever you're in a discussion with understands the concept of taking turns. If so, there will be plenty of time for you to state your case. Let them get all their points out before you start interjecting your own. When people interrupt, it just shows that they're not listening. They're not even waiting to speak. They think they're the most important voice in the room. Don't be that guy. Wait your turn, then obliterate them with your calm, well-crafted argument.
Don't forget your manners.
Shaking hands (unless we're mid-pandemic), using people's proper names, making eye contact -- these are all basic skills you should have learned along with other good manners like chewing with your mouth closed and saying "please" and "thank you." Good behavior can sometimes be more persuasive than words.
Try to understand where they're coming from.
In general, people don't do things for no reason. And without knowing what beliefs are driving their behavior, you have no hope of leading anyone to change, much less convincing them to come over to your side. So listen, genuinely, and try to see the other person's position from their perspective. Then find some common ground from which to coax them closer to your end of the argument.
Anyone can complain (and, boy, do they). It's easy to spend hours enumerating everything that's wrong. But what most situations really need are problem-solvers. Stop whining and focus on solutions. Be the person who eliminates the problem rather than dwells on it.
Behave like a role model.
If you have kids, imagine they're watching your every move (because they are). If you don't have kids, just remember that anything you say or do could end up on the internet. Even if you don't consider yourself a role model, someone might. Behave accordingly.
Give yourself one free pass.
When you're fighting the good fight, sometimes you get tired. Exasperation overtakes you. It's OK. You're human. So we'll give you one pass to let your true colors show, one opportunity to let a Biden-esque "Will you shut up, man?" rip. But then you have to go back to being the bigger person. Because there just aren't enough of those in the world.
Don't let the haters distract you.
You have a purpose, and some say that the closer you get to fulfilling it, the greater the resistance. Anyone trying to do something groundbreaking is going to get pushback. What matters is how you handle it and whether or not you let it derail you. Steel yourself, ignore the haters, and keep on keepin' on.
Walk away if necessary.
You can't win 'em all. And some people just aren't worth the fight. If you've used the aforementioned tools, depleted all your energy reserves, and haven't made any headway, it might be time to walk away. Let somebody else be the voice of reason -- or, better yet, let life (and karma) do their thing and teach the lesson for you.
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