Going high

We are bombarded daily with stories of fraud, cheating, self-interest, and dishonesty. People talking over each other, shoving, hostile. Everything is so charged and hot. Sometimes it feels like the people who stoop to these tactics might win the race and that we should do it, too. Otherwise, the ‘bad’ side will triumph. And yet.

Honesty matters. Integrity matters. Truth matters. Fairness and justice matter. On the foundations of these qualities, trust is built.

Explaining her ‘go high’ comment, Michelle Obama says,

My answer is yes. We need to keep trying to go high. Operating with integrity matters. It will matter forever. It is a tool.

At the same time, though, I want to be clear: Going high is something you do rather than merely feel. It’s not some call to be complacent and wait around for change, or to sit on the sidelines as others struggle. It is not about accepting the conditions of oppression or letting cruelty and power go unchallenged. The notion of going high shouldn’t raise any questions about whether we are obligated to fight for more fairness, decency, and justice in this world; rather, it’s about how we fight, how we go about trying to solve the problems we encounter, and how we sustain ourselves long enough to be effective rather than burn out. There are some who see this as an unfair and ineffective compromise, an extension of respectability politics, in which we conform to rather than challenge the rules in order to get by. Why, people rightly wonder, do we need to try to be so reasonable all the time?

I can see how some think that reason leaves no room for rage. I understand the perception that going high means that you somehow remove yourself and remain unbothered by all that might otherwise gall and provoke you.

But it’s not that at all.

When I first said those words…, I was neither removed nor unbothered. In fact, I was pretty agitated….

But where was my actual power? I knew it didn’t reside in my hurt and rage, at least as they existed in raw forms. My power lay in whatever I could manage to do with that hurt and rage, where I could take it. It hinged on whether or not I could elevate those feelings into something that would become harder for others to write off, which was a clear message, a call to action, and a result I was willing to work for.

That’s what going high is for me. It’s about taking an abstract and usually upsetting feeling and working to convert it into some sort of actionable plan, to move through the raw stuff and in the direction of a larger solution.

I want to be clear that this is a process, and not always a quick one. It can take time and patience. It’s okay to sit and stew for a while, to live inside the agitation caused by injustice or fear or grief, or to express your pain. It’s okay to grant yourself the space you need to recover or heal. For me, going high usually involves taking a pause before I react. It is a form of self-control, a line laid between our best and worst impulses. Going high is about resisting the temptation to participate in shallow fury and corrosive contempt and instead figuring out how to respond with a clear voice to whatever is shallow and corrosive around you. It’s what happens when you take a reaction and mature it into a response.

Because here’s the thing: Emotions are not plans. They don’t solve problems or right any wrongs. You can feel them—you will feel them, inevitably—but be careful about letting them guide you. Rage can be a dirty windshield. Hurt is like a broken steering wheel. Disappointment will only ride, sulking and unhelpful, in the back seat. If you don’t do something constructive with them, they’ll take you straight into a ditch.

My power has always hinged on my ability to keep myself out of the ditch.

https://time.com/6233764/michelle-obama-go-high-2022/

Here’s to staying out of the ditch.

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