I was recently blindsided by an experience that probably should not have caught me off guard. It happened when someone, with whom I have never had a negative interaction (and mistakenly thought I was developing a decent rapport), was exposed as referencing me in a way that, at its best, could be defined as stereotypical. Worst–racist (Please read up on racial microaggressions).
Since this incident, I have been deeply contemplating the (lost) art of dignified restraint.
Michele Obama spoke of this so eloquently during her 2016 DNC Speech when she shared the advice she gave her two daughters during the unprecedented ugliness of the presidential campaign. She told them, “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”
I admit that I am suspicious about the prevalence of dignified restraint in our society, hence my reference to it as a “lost art”. For most people today, it can be a difficult, even unnecessary concept to grasp. Social media sites make it less desirable to exercise any restraint, let alone in a way that could be classified as noble. Everyone has unlimited access to a free, world-wide platform that makes us feel like what we think is of great importance. We can use these platforms to build up or tear down at-will. If I’m being totally honest with my readers and myself, I can also admit that my blog has the same capacity, though I try to suppress that by provoking meaningful discourse, critical thought and self-reflection.
For some people, the ability to “go high when they go low,” comes quite naturally. You probably know at least one person who possesses this ability. More than likely, you have either admired them as (s)heroes or looked at them with eyes of wonder (what the fckness?!?). Perhaps, you have even accused this person of being a bit of a coward for not having the backbone to stand up to their offender(s).
Science tells us that in situations which evoke the strongest emotion and greatest stress, our response is based on our instinctive need to survive or overcome that stress: Fight or flight.
When I find myself in physical danger, that fight or flight response happens without a second thought. I am in danger, so I will either try to fight against that which threatens physical harm or I will escape the danger by any means necessary.
When it comes to a threat that is emotional or psychological in nature, however, dignified restraint provides us with an alternative response that can also be highly conducive to our survival. See, to be composed and self-controlled in the way we respond to acts of cruelty or hatred is not synonymous with being apathetic or complacent.
It does not suggest that we condone the inappropriate behavior and no–it does NOT require that we remain silent about the act that is so clearly intended to harm or demean us. It does, however require that we take time to contemplate and assess, thus enabling us to remain true to our desired values and decorum.
Dignified restraint enables us to maintain control in a situation that is designed to force us to relinquish it.
My pen will always be mightier than any sword a person chooses to use against me. I am secure with who I am and will always choose to be dignified in my restraint against a person’s attempt to undermine me. In this situation, I have decided that opening a dialogue with the person who sponsored the micro-insult against me would be highly unproductive. Insecurity breeds contempt and I have no time or desire to entertain that.
What is productive, however, is to share my experience and open a dialogue with my readers. So, I’d like to hear from you, readers. How do you choose between fight, flight or dignified restraint when some aspect of your identity is under attack?