9.26.2011

On the Etiquette of Taking the High Road



As part of an etiquette series on The Daily Connoisseur I would like to explore the various facets of etiquette and how it plays a part in our daily lives. This week’s post is on taking the ‘high road’.

Taking the high road means many things to me- it means to remain a class act at all times, to not allow yourself to get flustered or agitated, to keep your cool and to issue detached assertiveness (really the essence of maintaining an air of mystery- losing one’s cool is so not mysterious).

This isn’t always easy. Sometimes when met with a pushy or rude person it can be awfully tempting to appeal to your baser instincts and issue a low blow to defend yourself. But I find avoiding this at all costs really pays off in the end.

This past summer I watched The Real Housewives of New York reunion show (an American reality TV show that follows a group of women that are probably as far from real as it gets) and was absolutely appalled at the behavior exhibited on screen. These women are far from well behaved anyway (even though one of them actually wrote an etiquette book) but the show had been a guilty pleasure of mine for a few seasons. But the level of vulgar cattiness, rude retorts and complete lack of manners from any of them, with maybe the exception of Sonja Morgan, left me with a very bitter taste in my mouth. I turned it off before it was half way through and decided to stop watching the show all together- a pity because I used to get quite a kick out of it.

**Update** I just read that they have replaced several of the original cast members for next season so I might put it back on my guilty pleasure list and give it another shot- although my hopes are not high.

I think what disturbed me the most about the reunion episode was that no one took the high road. Attacks and accusations were flying everywhere and most of them, rather than remaining calm and ladylike adopted the language of a sailor and said something equally horrible back. Whatever happened to civility? If my character was ever attacked like that of course I would want to defend myself but I think it’s much more clever to deliver a witty and civilized retort than to resort to common vulgarities. (Although I must say that isn’t easy either. I always think of the perfect thing to say long after the incident occurs).

Sometimes in those situations saying nothing at all and smiling is the best defense. I am reminded of a story about an ancient Chinese monk who was accused of wrong doing by an entire town. When the accusations flew he simply said “Is that so?” In the end the truth prevailed (it always does) and he was found to be innocent. But good for him in the meantime for taking the high road.

So the next time you are met with an unsavory character who tries to take you down practice taking the high road- smile and say “Is that so?” or say nothing at all. After all, if you remain a class act you don’t need to explain yourself to anyone- your behavior will speak volumes for you.

I would love to know… what are your experiences with taking the high road?

The Chinese porcelain vases pictured above are from the Qianlong Reign and date back to 1740. They can be found at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

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12 comments:

LR @ Magnificent or Egregious said...

RHONY used to be my guilty pleasure too (especially when Bethenny used to be on the show) but now I can't stand to watch the cast members fighting and acting like morons...no thanks! The funny thing is, I met LuAnn last year in NYC and she was actually very nice and gracious, I was shocked. Normally I peg people in an instant (especially the phonies!) and she was nothing like how she comes across on TV, not at all snooty, she chatted with myself and the JC Penny clerk for at least 10 minutes while waiting for Jill and Kelly to arrive at the store event, she happily posed for a photo and never made me feel like I was wasting her time. I actually wasn't surprised to hear she wasn't one of the dismissed cast members. Glad Sonja is staying too as well as Ramona.

Anyway, enough about RHONY, I enjoyed this post and it couldn't have come at a better time. I admit I am struggling with taking the high road these days...most times I try to let things go and do so to keep the peace, but eventually there comes a point when repeated actions from people become toxic, and I just can't sit by lightly and allow people to treat myself and others badly...I try to speak up or do something about it. It's a struggle for me sometimes.

Mrs. Exeter said...

Oh I love your blog and this post is so good. RHONY is worse than ever, and I wonder can it be real? Even if I wanted to say those things there's no way I'd ever do it if I thought there was a camera within 100 miles! Some of the ladies seem to be drunk all the time, which most unseemly in anyone, but seems worse in a 50+ woman!

The thing with the high road is you never regret taking it, which you do with a low blow, even if it is witty and satsifying at the time. xxx

LMK said...

Have to admit we don't watch any of the "reality tv". The way people behave in these shows is something I don't want piped into my home. We don't even watch the news channels. Don't we have enough negativity to deal with on a daily basis when we walk out that front door? Home is a peaceful sanctuary for the family to get away from it all.

And anytime I'm accosted - yes, will use that word - by someone who tells a story I could have done without, politely say, "Oh, how nice for you." then casually segue by finding someone I spy who I want to/must speak with, or remember something important I must do to excuse myself from the situation.

And have gotten that odd nasty email. My response has, and always will be, nothing to them but "may you find peace". Perhaps it will make them angrier that it didn't get the rise they were hoping for, but at least discussion, if need be, is left for a better time when the dust settles, and no further shame involved.

Have to admit, this evolution has been a personal journey in control. Wasn't this way when younger, much more of a reactionary. But experience has taught me it's not worth it to sweat the small stuff. And when people are like that it says more about them than it does you.

Thanks, Jennifer, for such a thoughtful post. You ARE a class act.

CashmereLibrarian said...

I know many people who seem to feel that the worst possible thing is to allow someone to "get the better of them." They're thus apparently obligated to have the last word even if it means 1)stressing over what is really a small thing and 2)coming off as loud and vulgar. And then they think this behavior is admirable? Although I'm not perfect, it seems to me that every time I've taken the high road, I ultimately come out on top. With my stress level and dignity intact. In short, I just don't get why this type of behavior is so hyped in our culture. Chill, people!

Vicki said...

Hi Jennifer,

Another thought provoking post from you. Our reactions are relative to our upbringing, our expectations of anothers behavior and our own behavior. How much do we want others to like us, do we actually put any credibility on comments or opinions from others, etc. How easy to just walk away.
How are you now Jen that you're back home, I'm sure you're missing little pieces of England? I enjoyed your posts from the mother country.
Vickixx

Ms. M said...

A wise person once told me that the need to always "equalize" things was a tell-tale characteristic of a person who is addicted to drama or conflict.

Ever since then, I've made a point to avoid becoming too attached to outcomes. For example, I don't worry about whether I'll receive a gift in return for a gift; I don't lend money unless I'm willing to accept that it may not be repaid; and I don't feel like I have to make others see my viewpoint or acknowledge their mistakes. If they don't get it, just move on.

Adopting this attitude has greatly reduced the amount of angst and negativity I experience. I have so much more energy for the things that matter.

LMK said...

Another aspect of this thought of after posting my first response, and would like to add, is the rare phenomenon of accepting responsibility when one makes a mistake rather than rationaizing. The good will that is spread when we simply & gracefully say we truly apologize is amazing. It just doesn't seem to happen often enough.

However, this only works when it is a authentic declaration. We all know those who will constantly exhibit bad behavior, then hand out the fake sorries and too often. Nope, they're not foolin' anyone.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Ladies- thank you so much for weighing in on this topic. I've really enjoyed reading your responses and your take on taking the high road! The thing is it can be quite difficult to do... I always remind myself of the future and how happy I'll be in it if I take the high road :)

LR- It is a struggle for me too- you are not alone! And interesting story about LuAnn... I actually read her etiquette book- it's not bad! She just needs to follow her own lessons on camera :)

Mrs. Exeter- Thank you very much! I do think a lot of RHONY is staged. Which makes it worse- that they would willingly act like that (when they aren't like that in real life) for the cameras. What is society coming to?

LMK- I love that response- "May you find peace". I'm going to use that! You are a class act too darling :)

Cashmere- Chill people! Ha! I couldn't have said it better myself. Yes it that sort of behavior is apart of our culture now and I don't get it. Maybe that's why I'm enjoying my historical TV shows more and more. Watching Downton Abbey right now- there is something about that Victorian sentiment that appeals to me...

Vicki- Everything you said is quite true- it is all relative to our upbringing and environment. And thanks for your kind comments. I am home safe and sound and happy to be here!

Ms. M- Yes! Not expecting anything from anyone does help. Then you are never disappointed but only pleasantly surprised if someone behaves with integrity :)

LMK- You bring up a very good point. And it is important to examine your part in every situation... sincerity is key!

~P said...

Hi, I have just discovered your blog today from an article on CNN.com and I love it! Nothing has taught me more on taking the high road than my divorcing a narcissist. He was the classic wolf in sheep's clothing and never wrong. I was finally free of the drama (or 99% of it anyway) by just following this rule - do not engage. Simple answers via email when we must make travel arrangements concerning our child, and that is it. I stopped answering the phone calls from him and his mother that were sucking the life out of me and it felt AMAZING. I was empowered. It was one of the most freeing moments of my life.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

~P - Thank you for your comment and welcome to the blog! I'm very happy to hear you are in a better place. Not engaging in lower behaviors is very good advice indeed. Best Wishes!

Rosemary Grimm said...

I know this is a very late response to this entry, but I just have to say this post is so good, and I couldn't agree more. I wrote about my own "high experience" on my own blog. Seems we can't avoid these situations. I also enjoy reading the responses. It's nice to know others feel so strongly about manners...very refreshing.

Rosemary

Unknown said...

Ms M, I totally agree with you. I learned to keep my cool while my daughter - the most exhausting, annoying toddler imaginable - was small. In 2007 I gave up sugar, and this year alcohol, which makes one much more even-tempered so I do not feel my buttons pushed any more.

The problem is that some people want that violent reaction. It happened to me that an aquaintance said something like "You really shouldn't wear this or that at your age" and I just said "If you say so...". She screamed that talking to me was like talking to the wall and that I didn't care for anything, not even for her when she was trying to be helpfull (ha!).

 
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