We’re in the middle of the holiday season and this is when the family drama most often gets going hard. I’ve also been listening to lots of stories online about tons of issues between friends, co-workers, family members… and–inevitably–someone’s being asked to “be the bigger person.”
I think there are few phrases in the English language that are more aggravating and weak at the same time.
There are thousands of reasons why this phrase gets thrown out there at people. And I hate it. I have lots of issues with it for a number of reasons.
Being the bigger person feels easier when the other person’s arguing or defending something that’s kinda trivial, and it takes someone to just end the conversation with “let’s agree to disagree” (or pretend to agree to move on). It shuts down discussion… unless your antagonist’s whole point was to “win” the conversation, in which case it’ll come up again.
I can’t think of many positive examples of “being a bigger person,” at least, not in the long run. Largely because I think it is only effective if the other person realizes that’s what you’re doing in the first place.
Then they might figure out they’re being a combative asshole for the hell of it, which might lead to introspection and an epiphany about how they can be a better person?
…Yeah, and rainbows are unicorn farts with extra pizazz.
Otherwise, you look like a doormat or someone who would rather keep the peace than argue. If you’re against someone who just wants to win at all costs, they now know they can argue and whine and eventually you’ll cave and validate their position by default. And that will just make them keep doing it. (A certain occupant of a certain government building is a fine example).
I’d love to know how someone can be a bigger person to someone who has wronged them a lot, or done a crazy breach of trust (theft, cheating on partner, etc.) What I hate most is hearing the stories where family members don’t want to hear about the problem and demand that the complaining party just “be the bigger person.” To me, that screams “we don’t want drama, just take one for the team and let’s play happy family for the holidays,” even as your heart is breaking. And then you get the blame for ruining everybody’s good time because you can’t just flip a switch and pretend for a few hours or days.
I hate those stories, and it’s amazing how often they crop up. In my own case, I remember I had an issue with my own mother (short version: I forgot Mother’s Day one year and she lashed out at me over e-mail the next morning. It was an honest mistake on my part–I mess up “floating Sundays” holidays–and I was confused because she never gave a rat’s ass about holidays before). I asked some advice in a post on Facebook. The number of people who told me “she’s your only mother” and ” it sucks, but try to make it up to her” just annoyed me. When I asked something like, “She’s always been oblivious to her own wrongs and has never apologized to me, so why do I always have to be the bigger person instead of her for once?”, I got no reply. Nothing.
The more I think about it, the more it feels like what you see with kids and bullying. The bully never gets caught or called out on their behavior, but when the victim’s had enough and lashes out physically, verbally, or tells a teacher or parent, they’re told they need make changes (or they get in trouble) instead of the bully.
What good does “being the bigger person” do when the other person plays ignorant, is totally dismissive of your feelings, oblivious, etc.? I get confused the more I think about this and I want to know: what’s the point of “being the bigger person” then? The person who you have a beef with isn’t going to meet you in the middle because to them, there’s no more middle ground to meet in since you conceded.
I get angrier and more confused the more I read about this–when family members try to force a reconciliation or a “be the bigger person” moment is probably the worst. Often they’re clearly taking one person’s side over the complainer’s for some reason, but I’m guessing they don’t want that pointed out (and want the guilt to just go away fast).
I can see “being the bigger person” to be useful in small spats or situations (like kids arguing about which ice cream flavor is the best), but when there’s some major issues that need to be taken out and examined, stuff that’s spread over years or that one really traumatic (emotionally, physically, psychologically, whatever) thing that’s changed how you can interact with this person… yeah, that doesn’t feel fair or right.
Yes, I know, life isn’t fair… but why make it less fair for yourself by rewarding the shitty behavior of a “loved” one or friend?
For the record, these examples aren’t my stories, but similar to ones I’ve read and heard all over the internet:
“I’m not going to the dinner. You forget that my bother slept with my girlfriend, got her pregnant while we were raising our two year old, and now I’m a single parent while they’re married?”
“Well, you can’t help who you love. Be the bigger person and forgive them. It’s the holidays after all.”
“I’m sorry my dad and stepmom are losing their house, but they threw me out the day I hit 18 without a job or place to go (while letting my stepsibs stay til way older), lied about me so no other family would take me in. I’ve scraped by to afford the basics for 10 years, can barely afford the roof over my head, their golden kids won’t take them in, but now they’re demanding MY help?”
“They’re your family. Be the bigger person. They need help.”
I could go on and on with the stuff I’ve read. The Reddit threads have some of the worst ones (shudder).
Now, deep down, I get the basic idea that holding onto anger is a bad thing. Yes, it takes a toll on you if you can’t move past it. However, for those who’ve been terribly wronged by family members, moving past it might often mean the other person should acknowledge the wronged person’s feelings and offer explanations where possible (if possible).
To me, there’s some twisted logic when one person pulls the “because we’re family” card on one, but totally glosses over what the other person did.
To me, trust and truth are what make a family real, not blood.
Sorry so long, I just get fed up with these excuses and reading them hurts.
So, anyway, what do you think “being the bigger person” really means, and how is it best applicable? Do you think it’s always the best (or not) to “be the bigger person”?
3 thoughts on “Q #153: What’s your thought about “being the bigger person” in most situations?”
Thank you for making this post. I can so relate to situations with being bullied where the bully gets away with everything, but the second I call them out and yell at them when it comes to their crap then I’M the bad guy! That phrase is such a double standard because I don’t see others taking responsibility for their words and actions while I have to be accountable for my stuff even if I’m falsely accused. I’m glad you’re able to relate.
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