Don't sink to their level

June 08, 2020

It is so tempting, when someone curses you out, to yell right back. To scream, get in their face, to react.

Don't.

The moral high ground is too important.

When you disapprove something someone does, the basic choice is like-for-like—to fight fire with fire—or to draw a line, and say, that behavior might be good enough for them, but it's not good enough for me.

You want to be better—to control the terms of the debate. Not let the other person drag you down, to have to fight them the way they want to be fought. Also, there's always someone who can yell louder.

Dianne Feinstein doesn't yell. Kamala Harris, California's other senator, loves making scenes, getting in peoples' faces, and playing the "tough prosecutor" role. Feinstein knows that with only 100 members of the chamber and a six-year term, today's opponent is tomorrow's ally. If you want to last 28 years as a Senator—the longest-serving woman in the chamber—that's the only way to play it.

What I take from Feinstein, Gandhi, and others, is that toughness and results don't have to come at the cost of bad behavior. Not everyone has to like you, but you don't score points being disagreeable, bad-tempered, yelling, or using foul language.

Another group who understands the power of good behavior is Black Americans of the Civil Rights Era. Rosa Parks didn't curse anyone out—she just sat there, knowing that said enough.

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