little comic


I’m not sure who coined the phrase “be the better person”, but I’m definitely not a member of that club. I’m a good person, a kind person, but not the better person. Let me explain…

Last week I was confronted with the choice between honoring a commitment I had made and taking care of my emotional needs. I’m not talking about picking up groceries for a friend or giving someone a ride. I had made a 3-day commitment to help out a friend. Leading up to the event an unresolved issue occurred between us and considering the circumstances, it became apparent that I would be unable to follow through. Me, not follow through on a commitment? That was a tough one. Years ago I would have taken a deep breath and carried-on. Back then it was more important for me to be thought of as nice, helpful, unselfish;  to be liked and most importantly not to make any waves. I was a good girl.

The 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living, featured in Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection address these very types of dilemmas.  They are reminders to follow our inner compasses for the purpose of living from a place of authenticity, empathy toward others and self-compassion. They are reminders to let go of people pleasing and to base our self-worth from within, rather than from the approval of others.

Guidepost # 1. was staring me right in the face: Letting Go of What People Think, by Embracing Authenticity.

A few loved-ones offered me their advice: “Joanie, be the better person. Stick to your commitment and in the end you’ll feel happy that you did.” I thought long and hard about this. Be the better person… better than whom? Better than the person who speaks their truth? Better than the person who approaches their relationships with honesty? Better than the one who can say “I’m sorry, I messed-up”? Speaking the truth means being a good person… good to me and honest with others. My decision was made.

If being the better person means sucking it up, soldiering through or “doing the right thing”, I’d rather stick to being a good person. In my experience, being the better person goes hand in hand with compromising values & integrity or pleasing to avoid conflict. In addition, the word “better” implies that my ego is hovering somewhere above the other person, and that’s not a place I like to hangout.

I’ve learned that I’m not actually in service to someone if I haven’t taken care of my own needs. If I ignore them (my needs) and pretend everything is fine, not only am I being dishonest to the other person, I am also dishonoring the relationship. By no means does this revelation imply that I’m still not tempted to concede, nor does it imply that I don’t get tremendous pleasure from helping others.  But with practice I’ve learned to slow down and breathe into my truth. Speaking up for myself may come at the risk of disappointing or angering someone and maybe even ending a relationship. If vulnerability and trust are not already a component of the relationship, perhaps its time for me to re-evaluate how it’s serving me.

We’re always in choice when we’re faced with a dilemma: The choice to make a decision based on fear (I’ll be disliked, I’ll lose my friend, s/he will think I’m selfish), or the choice to make a decision based on love (honesty will bring closer connection, I’ll practice self-compassion, I trust my friend will understand).

What does “be the better person” mean to you? I REALLY want to know.

Joan Shulman,
Good Person

POST SCRIPT:  Just for  clarification,  I am not implying that we shouldn’t strive to be “better people” in general.  Lord knows we could all do more of that!  I am referring to a specific situation that typically invites the phrase: “Be THE better person”.



  1. There is so much power in how we use language and I appreciate you illuminating this about a very common phrase. Being the “better” person has such judgment implicit in it because the only way we can consider ourselves the better one is if in our mind the other person is not. Speaking truthfully about something uncomfortable yet with care and respect are not mutually exclusive. Quite the contrary. We honor both ourselves and others by sharing what is real for us. Then we find out who can meet us there and who cannot. How can that be anything but a healthy exchange for both people?

    1. Author

      Debra, I too feel the judgement in that phrase. I never had until now when I was hit with a shift! Interesting…

  2. Hi Joanie,

    I couldn’t agree more. Honoring yourself and your own needs is ‘the’ most important way of loving and appreciating yourself and others. Sacrifice was the way of our ancestors but as we know now, it only serves to hurt ourselves and therefore does ‘not’ as you said so beautifully serve the highest in relationship.

    Being the ‘better’ person means to me that I’m the best I can do for myself – tending to myself, and not abandoning myself in the name of a commitment or anything else.

    You are modeling love in its purest form.

    Thank you!


    1. Author

      Thanks Robyn – these lessons show up so beautifully,and just in time to teach again what it means to love and be loved.

  3. Just the very thing you were helping me with back in November!

    I think these situations rear their heads as we get older and see time as limited and have to be conscious of authenticity, personal growth and time left to come to terms with our true selves.

    1. Author

      So true Sue – the wiser we become, the harder it is to deny our own truths!

  4. Author

    Nina – funny how language is so personal, and yes, it’s hard to “fight” the good girl!

  5. Joanie, beautifully stated. As I read “be the better person,” the phrase “take the high road” came to mind. I think they’re related in some ways… on the surface, it (taking the high road, being the better person) seems like the “right” thing to do. But when you dig into it, there’s still the idea “that my ego is hovering somewhere above the other person…”

    Your words also lead me to think about power, and how we give it away when we don’t follow our truth. You are clearly committed to being a living, breathing manifestation of your truth and power. Even when it sucks. The suckyness is short-lived, and a small price to pay, when you consider what you are rewarded with in return. Love to you!!

    1. Author

      Beth, I think when we add the caparison element to these phrases it feels inauthentic. It’s so interesting how a little twist of language can change the intention of a phrase. Thank you for your lovely comment!

  6. I always thought people who said things like “be the better person” were just trying to manipulate me into doing what
    they want.

  7. I really appreciate this. These are words I have thought and told myself, however it feels good to see others state them. To know I am not selfish, insane or likewise. I am a good person who has always been ruled by empathy for others. It is learning to self-care which has been a hard lesson.

    1. Author

      Frank – you are far from selfish, as you have found a way to take care of others by taking care of yourself!

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