There are many challenges in life, but one of the biggest I’ve encountered is learning to be the bigger man. This is a challenge that is ongoing, and constantly evolving with every relationship I’ve chosen to keep.
It’s a difficult endeavor because in the simplest of terms, it means accepting humility. What I’ve realized is that any time my goal in a conversation or action is to be “right,” I’m not the bigger man. In fact, it can often make me act really small, and make everyone involved feel really small. I may “win” an argument with these tactics, but no one is really a winner in the end here. I often end up feeling guilty, the person I “defeated” feels embarrassed, and our relationship usually isn’t stronger because of it.
Alternatively, when I’ve been the bigger man, things have turned out surprisingly well. It’s not that I bow my head like a whipped dog and slink away. It’s that I do what I believe is right in the argument or situation, and accept responsibility for my actions, while not overreacting at the actions of others. I’ve found this brings me peace I could not have found with a goal of being right, and prevents my “opponent” from holding ill feelings towards me. We all win in that scenario.
So how does one accomplish this? That’s a question to this day I cannot consistently answer. It’s more than backing off in an argument. When we’re talking about life situations, there’s a lot more on the line than proving who did the dishes last. If no one chooses to be the bigger man, or woman, relationships could be ruined, as ties may be severed altogether if two parties reach an impasse.
When people’s feelings are involved, there’s a certain sense of delicacy that must be approached. Some figure, “If I’m right, I’m going to stand my ground until everyone involved sees that I’m right.” But if the same scenario is approached with delicacy, a much more amicable result may follow. I’m trying to instead approach it as, “I’m going to make my emotions clear so they understand what I’m feeling, then hope they do the right thing as I back off and do the same.” And if they don’t, at least I can feel good knowing I did my part.
Imagine being able to feel like you got your point across without it being a battle. Sure, this may end with an “agree to disagree” result, but I’d even take that over being “right” if it means we were respectful and could move forward together.
Pride can be a relationship killer. That’s been the hardest thing for me to let go. Appearances have been far too important in the past. “Well if I don’t prove my point here, I’m going to look weak … If I don’t stand my ground, they are going to think I’m a pushover … There’s no way I’m letting them believe I won’t fight for what I believe.” This is the devil on my shoulder talking, and it’s often pointless. Pride can be poison. There are times when pride is important. We tend to believe those times come whenever we are challenged. This is not the case.
The next time you’re in the midst of a “battle,” ask yourself this: “Will me winning this battle make things better?” If the answer is no, find a way to let things go. It’s not worth the stress and anger that is going to follow. If the answer is yes, ask yourself a follow-up question: “Are the things that will get better worth losing the person I’m battling?” If you can answer yes to both, there’s a good chance you never valued the relationship in the first place, and there was no point even starting the conversation or action that turned into a battle.
The basic premise is simple: Display respect and hope it is returned. When it comes to implementation of it, though, it is rarely that easy. One or both parties will usually feel disrespected in a battle. It is here where I’m hoping I can make a stand, not to demand respect with anger, but to earn it by being the bigger man. I want to start a domino effect that trickles down to everyone around me. As a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a relative, a friend and a decent human being, I feel this is my job. I’m hoping it catches on.
I’m not pretending to have this thing mastered. I’m a student here, and although it’s a struggle, I’m going to strive to be the bigger man when opportunity arises. Anyone I’ve chosen to be a part of my life deserves that from me, and I’m hoping by showing them this, they realize that I deserve that from them too.
Patrick Ibarra is the managing editor of the Mountain Democrat.