Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Is The Moral Highground The Right Direction?

When I was growing up I was always taught to "take the moral high ground" in an argument. This was supposed to make me feel grown up and that I had done the right thing. I would try to make the peace even if I felt that it was really the other person who was at fault!

However as I get older I do wonder if this really makes sense. Do people actually appreciate it? Do they even realise you are doing it? Or do they just see it as an admission that you were wrong in the first place and that they were right?

I'll give you two examples of things that have happened to me that have caused me to re-consider if taking the moral high ground is the right thing to do.

The first was an argument I had with my mother in law whilst pregnant. We had never got on well but when she reduced me to tears at 20 weeks pregnant I decided that enough was enough. I didn't want to cause a family feud but I also didn't want to be around her any more until she apologised and promised to behave better in the future. However she didn't see it this way. She thought that I was just being over the top and "hysterical" and said that she had nothing to apologise for. So I kept my distance and I was happy to do so.

The trouble was that my husband really wanted us to be friends (or at least civil, friends was probably a bit too much to hope for), he wanted his mother to see our baby and asked me if I would make the first move. For his sake I decided to do it and emailed his mother a friendly email asking to meet up and tried to make the peace. But did I do the right thing? I think she just saw it as an admission that I was in the wrong and she was right all along. She never did properly apologise for her behaviour. In fact her behaviour towards me has remained pretty icy.

The other event that occurred was when my sister in law (are you spotting an in-law pattern here?) sent me an extremely vindictive email full of lies and accusations and criticising my parenting and even my children.I wrote a big long email back  but then decided I didn't want to stoop to her level so sent a short, restrained reply instead. I've always regretted this though. Although I'm pleased I didn't descend to the level of  a Jeremy Kyle show, I also feel that she was allowed to get away with her behaviour and I would probably feel a lot better for letting all my anger out rather than trying to keep it in.

I'm still undecided though. Is taking the moral high ground the way forward or does it ultimately do you no favours?


  1. You did the right thing at the time Emma. Striking back in the same way they struck at you would actually have proved they were right! By being reserved and taking the moral high ground it meant that you retained your dignity. Don't doubt you did the right thing, x

  2. Hi Emma, I know excactly what you mean. I had a situation with somebody and it wouldn't have made any difference what I said. She thought she was right. My Aunt once told me that with people who are used to confrontation and think they are right, that the best thing you can do is walk away and agree to disagree. You did do the right thing in not lowering yourself to their level (it is hard, I agree to keep silent). The other thing I find, is how I analyse situations and then realise they are probably going about their day as normal. Because they are too self centred to even realise they may have upset you. You've risen above it!

  3. It's difficult. In some situations, no. The moral high ground if that means conceding a valid point is a bad place to be. BUT, some people get so entrenched that if one person doesn't make the first move to cool things down, they will continue and make you both miserable.

    I think if you are going to take the 'moral high ground' you need to do so with a smile on your face. Accept that it will be a concession to what you really want but, in the big scheme of things, even if it results in someone else getting a better result than they deserve, the overall result for you is much better.

    Here's an example. I shared a room at uni with a girl who went a bit crazy. Discovered boys and was very indiscreet. She would openly have 'relations' in our room when she knew I was going to be back at any time. On more than one occasion I walked in on her. In the end I asked to be moved. I ended up with a poky little room for me and she had this enormous room to herself. Was it annoying? Yes. Was it still a better result for me? Yes. Sometimes sticking your heels in does no good for anyone even if it annoys the hell out of you that someone else is going to benefit if you don't.

    That all said, there are times to stick your heels in. When it comes to deeply held beliefs. I am currently fighting something in my former workplace because of this. There are times in your life to stand up and be counted but other times are just not worth the pain it will cause you.

  4. It's a really difficult thing to do, especially where family are concerned, but 9 times out of 10 I think it's always better to take the moral highground. It's really hard because you need to be able to reconcile within yourself that what you are doing is for the best and not let the arguement eat away at you inside. From my own personal experience I wish I had taken the moral highground with my sister many years ago rather than going down to her level and retaliating in an arguement. The result was didn't speak to each other for the next seven years. When I think about that time now I wonder if it would have been better if I had taken the moral high ground that day. I don't know. We're talking to each other now and our relationship is the best it ever has been but my sister is prone to speaking her mind without any concern for who she might hurt so I have learn't that it's best to be guarded around her, so that she has no reason to snap.