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Do I Say My Piece or Take the High Road?

Do I Say My Piece or Take the High Road?

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Growing up, I watched a dear person in my life hold back from saying her piece and instead carry unexpressed energy in her body. She repeatedly considered, “What if I did things differently? What if I had spoken up?” As a result, I decided I would always say my piece and never let anyone treat me badly. I would not hold things in and be walked all over. I would be proactive and direct.

Fast forward a few decades. Now, I am considering that this is not always the highest road.

It’s a revelation for me. I’m learning I would be proactive and directthat there may be a time to not retort to a hurtful comment, especially when the person lashing out is not able to hear or digest the response. My aim is rather to feel the awakened pain within without running away from it. To transform my ego in the process, and thus strengthen myself. And to send love and compassion back to the person who did the hurting. If we were all living in balance and truth, we would not feel the need to hurt or judge or break people down rather than build them up.

For example, the other day someone said something that implied I was stupid. I felt struck as if by a dart; I was stunned as it stung. That thoughtless comment sent me whirling back to the source of the sting, to another time and place when I was very little. As I came back to the moment, a sarcastic retort came to mind—while another, wiser voice within urged me to be quiet and to simply take it. The tug-of-war began. My ego became defensive and aggressive, but the wiser voice insisted that I take a step back and allow myself to feel the emotion within.

So I did just that. I walked away, went to a comforting space, and took out my writing portfolio for some validation, which made me smile. And then I let myself cry.

I looked in the mirror and told myself I was great. That in some areas I might be considered “stupid,” yes, but that it was in fact a gift from G‑d. For if I was versed in everything, I wouldn’t be as clear on the direction of my mission in this world. When I calmed down, I began to see how the person who said the comment in question may have an inferiority complex of his own, and that it was actually irrelevant if he found me stupid.

This is not easy work for me. I have a fierce ego, and a need to be right and appreciated. For the most part I don’t laugh easily at the presence of my flaws, and I am a perfectionist. I bask in external validation. What an ego!

But my aim is to love myself unconditionally, so much so that I can take whatever comes at me from the outside. My aim is to laugh at myself more. So that if a dart should come my way, like the one that once pierced my insides, it will have no place to stick, My aim is to love myself unconditionallyand will fall to the floor weakly. The dart can in fact serve as a gift, a reminder to love myself more and a reminder to focus on being the best unique me I can be.

On a greater level, if more of us have the intention to love ourselves and be the best partner, friend, relative, community member and nation member we can be, then if anyone or anything seeks to undermine us, we will be enlightened and strong and amazing and untouchable. And the dart will fall to the floor.

Disclaimer: There are times when it is absolutely necessary and appropriate to speak up. For example, if someone says something hurtful about someone vulnerable or unable to speak up for himself, or does something that can lead to adverse safety or health consequences. Or if you are confident that your carefully chosen words could make a difference to the way the person does things going forward.

Loren is a writer who is passionate about figuring out life and sharing the lessons she learns in a real and honest way. An avid magazine reader and writer, she also posts regularly on her blog in the hope that readers will be left feeling heard, less alone and inspired. Originally from South Africa, she now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and daughters.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Loren Jerusalem January 6, 2016

Thanks all for the feedback.

I agree that there is a time to say something as mentioned in the disclaimer at the end of the article. Perhaps I should have included in the disclaimer that there may be a time to speak up for yourself, and not only for other people.

I think an appropriate retort can be necessary at times ie: we teach others how to treat us. The venting too can feel important and healthy provided it is said as a statement (as you said Susan) and does not escalate things in a negative way.

But what I wanted to share in this particular piece, is that I no longer feel that saying my piece is always the best way or the only way, especially in cases when the person simply is unable to hear it. Interested to hear what others feel. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, NY December 24, 2015

When to respond to hurtful words Loren, it is quite commendable for you to heal yourself first when others say hurtful things. But are we always doing others a favor by not letting them know their words hurt? For example, Jews of Color (JOCs) put up with insults all the time and have to wade through what you do, along with the possibility that the remark was based on racism. For example, melanin-challenged Jews are often ridiculously surprised to see a Jew of Color reading a Hebrew-only siddur or Chumash. Why? Do they think people of color aren't "smart" enough to learn Hebrew? They're so anxious to "teach" FFB JOCs or long-term gerim very basic laws as though we were children. Speaking of children--theirs cry when asked to hold our children's hand (the children are innocent, but where did they pick up that attitude???). I've stopped holding back; it's too stressful! I've lashed out at the most obvious racists I encounter in our communities. Some have actually thanked me for making them aware of this. Reply

Fruma Delray Beach, FL December 23, 2015

But where does the road go? I agree with Susan Levitsky about calling the speaker on her action, but if you will have to interact with her again, calling her rude will cause you more trouble in the future. Why not simply say, "You may be right. I hope calling me stupid makes one of us feel better," and then walk away. Reply

Anonymous December 23, 2015

So, as I understand it.... youre saying to speak up for yourself but to speak up for others. So then is the expectation that others will speak up for you? I mean, thats not very productive. Reply

Susan Levitsky December 22, 2015

Don't be a doormat There is no such thing as taking the high road against someone who is mean and nasty and loves to make cutting comments. This person interprets your walking away as rude and angry behavior and doesn't consider the hurtful comment to be the cause. Why should the slighted person have to swallow a reply? Instead of getting into an argument, a statement of fact is in order; "That was a rude and hurtful comment." Then walk away. It may not change the other person's behavior but it allows the slighted party to vent which helps to alleviate the hurtful feelings. Reply

Anonymous Arizona December 22, 2015

That was a great article, his comment brought out such wonderful wisdom. Thank you! Reply

MB Miami December 22, 2015

I could related to every word written. Thank you for sharing your heart. Reply

Rachel Bronx December 21, 2015

Yes. This was well written and articulated something I experience frequently but didn't have words for. Thank you for the inspiration to keep working towards growth! Reply

Anonymous Connecticut December 21, 2015

I find that people tend to use adjectives that they understand and attribute them to others. For example, a selfish person will judge others to be selfish because it is what they know and understand. Reply

Joey FL December 21, 2015

I can really relate to this feeling and am going though the same thing. Thanks for your insights and encouragement, and God bless! Reply