Well, it’s the week before Christmas, and I suspect that you might be spending some of this time with family. I’ll be spending a lot of time with Margaret, our kids and grandkids in the days before Christmas. I’m so excited about the chance to connect and pour into the grandkids.
I consider myself incredibly blessed to have a family where we unconditionally love each other, but I recognize that not everyone experiences the same blessing. For many people, the holidays can be extra stressful because of the complicated relationships that come together over Christmas dinner. People are different, even in families that love each other, and conflict can arise over even the smallest things.
There’s lots of great advice out there about handling relational conflict over the holidays – from setting healthy boundaries to sharing feelings kindly but honestly. And it’s all valuable advice. Today, I’d like to share with you one behavior that my dad modeled in my family growing up, and that I’ve done my best to demonstrate in all my relationships ever since. It’s made the difference in my friendships, my marriage, and my parenting. Here is what my dad advised:
Always travel the high road
You see, in every interaction, there are three roads that we can take:
1. The low road, where I’m out to get you,
2. The middle road, where I’ll basically treat you as you treat me, and
3. The high road, where I’ll treat you well regardless of how you treat me.
When I was younger, I watched my dad, time and time again, treat people well, no matter what. Often that meant he treated them much better than they treated him. As a young person, I sometimes wished that he would fight for himself more, that he would exercise his rights more. But he didn’t. Instead, he consistently traveled the high road in every relationship. He gave way. He let things go. He forgave. He loved people anyway.
I remember once hearing a man ask Dad his opinion of a man who had spoken badly about him.
“I think he’s a fine man,” Dad said.
In response the questioner said, “Well, he’s said a lot of terrible things about you! What do you say to that?”
I’ll never forget Dad’s response: “You asked me what I thought of him, not what he thought of me.”
I didn’t understand how valuable that habit modeled by Dad was as a young person, but now I see the wisdom of the high road. Here it is: When you treat people better than what they deserve, you don’t carry emotional baggage. Why? Because taking the high road allows you to let go and move on. Taking the high road involves acceptance and forgiveness. It means loving someone enough to treat them better than they might deserve.
A lot of people just can’t get from Point A to Point B because they’re loaded with emotional baggage. They carry grudges and disappointments and hurts. Everyday they’ve got to travel with that luggage, but they can’t travel far because it’s just such a great burden.
When you take the high road, you don’t have baggage, because you’ve chosen to let go of it. I know that I’ve lost money because of the high road. I’ve had rights that I could have declared and demanded but didn’t. There were times when I put up with poor treatment. That’s okay. I carry no grudges, have no scores to even, and I sleep well at night. I just have found that taking the high road is worth it.
What I learned is that when you hold a grudge, it’s actually holding you. It holds you down. While you’re holding that grudge, the person you’re holding it against could be out dancing. They could be out having a good time. They might be moving on, but you’re not. Taking the high road allows you to move on, even when others haven’t.
In the next week or so, you’ll probably be interacting with people you love, but who are very different from you. Conflict will come up. Old wounds may get “poked.” In those moments, that’s when you have a choice: Which of the three roads will you take? Do you respond to negative comments in kind, or do you choose to be kind?
I can tell you that my dad, who just turned 93, would tell you that taking the high road is worth it. It’s allowed him to “travel light” and go a lot farther in creating great relationships than many of us will ever dream of. Take the high road with the people around you, and you’ll have a lighter journey. It’s just might help you experience the best holiday you’ve ever had.