Do You Take the High Road or the Low Road?

I really tried to find the source of this photo.

After writing about being called “touchy” last week, I started wondering what’s the best way to deal with someone who insults you, belittles you, mislabels you, misunderstands you, makes fun of you, upsets you, triggers you?  What do you do if you’ve perceived an insult but you’re not sure?

Do you take the high road?

Do you shake it off or try to?  Refuse to acknowledge it?  Refuse to admit something bothers you?  Refuse to sink to their level if they’re particularly obnoxious and nasty?  Do you wax philosophical and say to yourself “hurt people hurt people”?

Or do you take the low road?

Do you shut them down with your own insult or witty retort?  Do you say something that is ensured to hurt them so they never look at you funny again?  Do you embarrass someone who embarrasses you?  Do you defend yourself swiftly and vociferously?  Do you hurt people who hurt people?

What I used to do

Until very recently I would take the high road but not because I was morally superior but because I hated confrontation.  That and I wasn’t quick enough for witty retorts.  I didn’t think of anything to say until later after the shock wore off and I realized “That person was being a jerk to me!”

My stance was “I’m not going to be a jerk like that jerky jerk”.  But, it was a lie. I thought taking the high road meant I could avoid pain.  I wouldn’t avoid pain; I hoarded it, internalized it and for longer than necessary.  And I was a jerk.  A silent jerk.  I would only think (and write) what others would say.

I don’t think it’s a high road if you’re in pain.

What I do now

The answer:  it depends.  I hate when people answer questions with “it depends”. Everything depends.  It’s too wishy-washy, but sometimes it’s true and it’s as definite as you can get.

As I was avoiding writing this post by Googling stuff, I came across this excerpt from Jessica Hagy’s illustrated version of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War:

1. Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign, collects his army and concentrates his forces.

2. When in difficult country, do not encamp. In country where high roads intersect, join hands with your allies. Do not linger in dangerously isolated positions. In hemmed-in situations, you must resort to stratagem. In desperate position, you must fight.

3. There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must be not attacked, towns which must be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.

4. The general who thoroughly understands the advantages that accompany variation of tactics knows how to handle his troops.

When do you take the high road and when do you take the low road?  It depends on who’s involved, where you are, what was said.  You have to vary your tactics depending on these factors.

There are two tactics when dealing with an insult, etc. as I see it:  say something or don’t say something.

My only tactic used to be “don’t say something” but sometimes saying something is taking the high road.  Sometimes it isn’t.  And what do you say? Exactly what you think and feel?  Or just enough to make your displeasure known like an “eww”?  What do you say when other people are around?  See? It depends.

“It depends” is not a very comforting or inspiring strategy.  Someone could hurl   “you’re too sensitive” at me in the next hour and I still don’t know what I would do.

This is what I know for sure:  no matter what anyone says or does, no matter if I choose to say something or not, being present and feeling everything and being in my body and acknowledging hurt feelings even if it’s just to myself and doing something with it, like writing a blog post about it, is the ultimate strategy. Saying to myself “that hurt my feelings” or “that was rude” or “I don’t like that” is sometimes enough.

And sometimes it isn’t.

The writing of this post was supposed to help me answer the title’s question and I realize there is no answer.  Life is messy.  Sometimes you just have to wing it.



21 thoughts on “Do You Take the High Road or the Low Road?

  1. It is a tricky question that I myself find hard to answer. I also used to take the high road, for the same reasons as you did. But I recently wrote a post on how to deal with body image attacks mindfully, the way you say the best strategy is being fully present. I had an experience with being insulted and then simply observed the situation mindfully as well. It was a really interesting moment, to observe what truly happens within me without wasting so much thought about what to reply. I was simply able to see the pain it inflicted, and when I looked at the other person in silence, feeling my own hurt, I think the person became aware of how stupid their remark had been on their very own. But again, it entirely depends on what person you are talking to, and whether they are hostile towards you in principle.

    Another move I find is really interesting, especially when you realize someone is telling you how to feel, how not to feel etc, is pointing out to them that they are trying to manipulate you. Sometimes they don’t realize this is in fact what they are trying to do. Calling on them often disarms people instantly and they tend to get embarrassed (and defensive, but at least you have made your point). This post by the Blues Fairy has opened my eyes to what counts as manipulation and it keeps helping me in my everyday life to recognize it.


    1. It’s complicated, isn’t it? That moment you describe where you just looked at the person while feeling your own hurt is so beautiful. An example of how not saying something can be the ultimate high road and light bulb moment.
      I said to another commenter that saying something sometimes isn’t just to make you feel better. Some people don’t know what they say or do or how it affects someone and saying something matter of factly like “I feel manipulated” can open someone’s eyes.
      I’m going to read that post on emotional manipulation.
      Thanks for your great comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read the post and it was really thought provoking. It sparked memories of interactions with people in my past.
        I’ve learned to say what I feel and watch people’s reactions. It’s so fascinating. It reveals everything about the other person. Do they soften up? Do they get defensive? Do they try to control or change the way you feel? I really believe we are emotionally underdeveloped as a society and HSP exist to be emotional leaders.
        I might write about this. Thank you for your kind words.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Exactly, this is preciely it. But I find that the most important point is not what it reveals about the other person. You can never control the behavior of the other person. The most interesting thing is, what do I do with that…? How does it make ME feel? Of course it’s always fascinating to then try out different ways of reacting. Ah. Human relationships. So complex!


      3. So complex is right. Your comments have really got me thinking. I’m starting to think of my life like a story and a story that concerns itself with more people other than just the narrator is more interesting to me as I get older, you know what I mean? But I totally understand where you’re coming from.


      4. I am sorry this took so long 🙂 Yes well my comments. I hope my random wisdom-sharing isn’t bothering you 😉 I am not sure I understood what you meant, actually. I absolutely agree that there is much more to life than just yourself, of course. And I didn’t mean to say you don’t have an influence on people or that you shouldn’t tell them where to stop if they are overstepping your boundaries or something. But I just meant the idea that you can change other people might cause more pain than if you focus on yourself and how to deal with those people being who they are. Is that at all understandable…? Hmmm 😉


      5. No I like your wisdom! I understood what you meant. I agree with you that trying to change other people can be a problem or cause pain. I’ve just found that being curious about how people respond makes life more interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Haha okay, I’m glad 🙂 Absolutely. I agree, I actually like to test various responses to see what works best to resolve tricky situations / moods. It is almost fun when seen as an experiment 🙂


  2. What an excellent thought-provoking post. I like it. Yes, I have been told that I am “too sensitive/to touchy, too..whatever”. I used to stand by silently, as I thought I was taking the proverbial high road, and showing them, by example, how to handle rudeness.

    One day at work one of those ppl who love to make the “too sensitive” remarks alone or in front of others, mentioned something that she didn’t like about a co-worker. I said why don’t you just tell her to her face then? Oh no, she answered, she could not do that as that particular co-worker would “rip her face off”. That was a revelation for me. So I started answering her and others like her right back. I practiced a few retorts at home, so that I was ready for the next time, and it worked. I felt better, she was surprised and her face turned red.

    Now when someone says something like you’re too sensitive or somthing else, I answer oh really maybe I’m just sensitive enough, and you are too INsensitive. Or I say Hey, don’t turn this into a straw-man argument. Stop with the pejorative comments, and stick to the subject. It stops them in their tracks and I feel better about defending myself. If a good friend were attacked, I’d defend totally, so why not defend myself?

    Yes, I’ve heard the one about hurt people hurt others, but I’m not sure. I had a horrible childhood and adolescence. I’m glad I survived it. The one thing that kept me going was that I knew I’d get away when I got into my teens (I did–I went out on my own), and I vowed that I would NEVER treat people like I was treated, and if I ever became a parent, I would be kind and helpful and NEVER be abusive to any children that I might have. Although I know that some ppl become abusers themselves. It’s complicated.

    Bottom line is who cares why they do it. They do it and I believe we must use strategy (like Sun Tzu) to fight and defend ourselves, and to show them if they do it again, it won’t be pleasant for THEM.

    Yes, that is a good point, a good observation that you made, Melene, HSP exist to be “emotional leaders” I look forward to reading you future post on that topic, Melene.


    1. I’m glad you found something that works, a strategy that works for you. I also find that once you defend yourself against an attack, etc. it gets easier after that.
      I really like reading how you and the other commenter handle things and I’m going to roll the “emotional leader” idea around.
      Thanks for another great comment, Lauren.


  3. Someone called me prickly the other day. I have been called this many times during my life. For the very first time, I said, “Yes, and I like being prickly. It might bother other people but it doesn’t bother me.” My reply left the person speechless. Lately my motto is, “Just Be It.”


    1. Excellent response, Rachel. I like it. Those critical ppl with their mean comments don’t like it at all when we answer them back. They really don’t like it when the boot is on the other foot. I like your motto”Just Be iT” Very good.


  4. I was thinking about the post in which you mentioned that HSP are naturally excellent leaders, They would lead with compassion and by example. Most probably the person who thought of the concept of Social Welfare, Medicare, Universal medical coverage, etc and a host of social programs were HSP.There are so many wonderful aspects to the HSP character.. I look forward to your posts.They are unique and wonderful

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rachel,
      I’m always good with comebacks after the fact! I think it is because we are totally sideswept at the time by the audacity of the person making the inappropriate/rude comment.

      I wonder what your perfect comeback was? I am compiling a list of ready to use comebacks so that I won’t be so surprised by those horrible comments!


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