If your childhood was anything like mine, you probably grew up amidst a chorus of socially ubiquitous philosophies. These little nuggets of wisdom, thrust upon our young minds, could be considered the rules of society, shaping our behaviour through guilt and reminiscence of reprimand. Mostly, these small altercations to naïve, juvenile manners, which could be argued as valid on the basis of natural instinct, are largely noble. However, when you actually think about them some are worth questioning. For example, the classic parental advice of ‘if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all’ could be dissected. While I don’t advocate for unjustified criticism, verbal assault or profanity, there is also a time and place for self-expression. Being confronted by our short-comings or mistakes is a valuable and essential means of self-improvement, being unlikely in the absence of an external influence. Similarly, the lack of emotional expression and subsequent suppression of anger or sadness can carry a heavy burden with dangerous consequences. There is, in my opinion, no necessity to shy away from our emotional responses out of a misguided attempt at politeness, with silence inevitably leading to a stunted society. However, there should be a nodded head towards the valuable lesson of speaking to each other with respect and appropriate decorum. Similarly, there is one particular social etiquette which may not deserve its title as correct.
I would be shocked if anyone said they had not, at some point, been told to ‘be the bigger person’. This carries with it a sense of maturity, suggesting that this concept is the progression from a primitive, unaltered childish response into the conditioned, accepted adult one. Did anyone else just read ‘unnatural’? The fundamental flaw with unnatural behaviours imposed upon us is that ultimately they cannot be understood. Intrinsically, while we may be able to rationalise the decision to overlook a problem, that primal part of us which dictates our emotions and reactions cannot be expected to surrender. To act in this way requires a huge suppression of anger, sadness or disappointment. This widespread infection of young minds raises young adults who are conditioned to suppress their emotions while simultaneously providing the means for someone else to do the exact opposite. Being the bigger person eventually makes you feel very, very small.
In overlooking or a squashing how you feel, you in turn become overlooked. To repress your thoughts is to devalue and undermine your importance as a person, and subsequently people may adopt the same attitude towards you. The bigger person is unlikely to be taken seriously because their sacrifice was unnoticed. Noticing the absence of bad behaviour is both uncommon and incomparable to noticing good behaviour. Moreover, you are enabling the other person to remain unaltered and not confronted with their mistakes, thus not providing them with the opportunity to progress. If being the bigger person requires not explaining your side to them or to others, you become unheard and unvalued. As such, it is not uncommon for you to become the villain in the one-dimensional narration of events. To silence your voice is not the only way to avoid speaking negatively. We need to start passing on updated and upgraded information. We have come to recognise the power of expression; we have started to understand the strength of standing up for ourselves. It is time we stopped telling each other to silence ourselves and instead just learned to speak with respect and, importantly, to listen.