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.
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”.
- If you haven’t already read Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, I highly recommend it.