D is for Behaving Decently Rather Than Being Dragged Into The Gutter  


People can choose how they respond to positive or negative experiences. The way they choose to respond has consequences, both for themselves and for other people.

On some occasions they will feel uplifted by meeting people who want to encourage others and spread hope. On some occasions they may feel downcast by encountering people who want to belittle others or spread despair.

Dirty fighters, for example, try to pull people down to the same level as them. They sometimes do this by insulting people, calling them names or scapegoating others. They like to create arguments, because then they can fight by their rules.

Some people can also drag others down by continually talking about what is wrong without ever proposing a solution. This can result in others feeling despair.

How to respond to such experiences? One approach is to learn from sages rather than shouters. It is to try to behave decently rather than be dragged into the gutter.

Caring people often try to be kind rather than cruel. They try to spread positive solutions rather than pain. They try to help people rather than hurt people.

Marjorie Clifton describes this approach in her article called Grace Under Pressure: Why difficult situations speak the most about you. She begins it with the following statement.

When my grandfather was once asked by a banker whether a dear friend of his of 20 years was trustworthy, he famously said, “I don’t know, I’ve never seen his back against the wall.”

I always wondered what he meant; after all, he had known the guy for most of his life. But, as a professional, and now a parent, I am acutely more aware of what he was really saying.

Marjorie goes on to share ideas about how people can respond when faced by a difficult scenario. Here are the headline themes. You can discover more via the following link to her article in the Huffington Post.


Take a breath (or a walk) before you react. 

If you have any hesitation, phone a friend. 

Give people the benefit of the doubt.  

Consider the long-term impact.  

Take the high road, even when it hurts. 

Can you think of a person who tried to behave decently rather than get dragged into the gutter? This may be somebody you know or have heard about. Somebody may have attacked them personally, questioned their character or called them names.

Certainly the person may have stood their ground, but they chose to try to do good things rather get caught in an argument. What did they say or do to try to behave decently in the situation?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a person who you believe tried to behave decently rather than get dragged into the gutter.

Describe the specific things they did then to try to behave decently.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of them taking these steps.




Different people choose different ways try to behave decently in challenging situations. One approach is for them to demonstrate compassion, which is caring in action. This can uplift others and can also lead to longer-term feelings of happiness.

Emma M. Seppala explores this theme in her article The Best Kept Secret to Happiness: Compassion. Here are some excerpts from this piece. You can discover more via the following link.



Compassion and service don’t just make us happy but they also have a host of other associated benefits and may even contribute to a longer life. 

One reason compassion makes us happy is by broadening our perspective beyond ourselves. We know from research on anxiety and depression that these tense and unhappy states are highly self-focused.

When you do something for someone else, however, that state of self-focus immediately dissolves … All of a sudden your attention was on helping them.  

Rather than feeling blue, you began to feel energized and before you knew it, you may even have felt better and had gained some perspective on your own situation as well. 

Compassion Uplifts and Spreads

Why are the lives of people like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Desmond Tutu so inspiring?

Research by Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia suggests that seeing someone helping another person creates a state of elevation.  

Have you ever been moved to tears by seeing someone’s loving and compassionate behavior? Haidt’s data suggests that it may be this elevation that then inspires us to help others – and it may just be the force behind a chain reaction of giving. 

Social scientists James Fowler of UC San Diego and Nicolas Christakis of Harvard demonstrated that helping is contagious – acts of generosity and kindness beget more generosity in a chain reaction of goodness.  

What can we take away from this research? That material goods may give us fun short-term pleasure but that long-term happiness and fulfillment lies less in what we can take than what we can give.  

Compassion may just be the best kept secret to being not just happy but also healthy, wealthy, and wise. 

Karen Armstrong took this route by creating the Charter for Compassion. She believes it is vital to start from the heart and create hope, rather than spread division. Karen and others have underlined the following points.

Compassion is at the root of many religions and spiritual beliefs.

Let’s revive the Golden Rule. Always treat all other people with the respect that you would like them to treat you with. Do not cause pain to others that you would not like inflected on yourself. 

Compassion can help to build a global community that helps to achieve the common good.

Below is a video in which people talk about the Charter for Compassion. You can discover more on its website.


Orly Wahba is another person who took this route. She founded the organisation called Life Vest Inside, which aims to spread kindness around the world.

She chose the name after hearing about the tragic death of 7-year-old girl she knew. Soon afterwards she was travelling by air and noticed a sign that said ‘Life Vest Inside’.

Orly focused on the qualities of such a Life Vest. It had the ability to help us to stay afloat, even when buffeted by strong waves. She saw that kindness had the ability to help each of us to develop this inner strength.

Bearing this in mind, Orly decided to focus on giving and passing on kindness. Below is a video from the website. You can discover more via the following link.


Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation in which you may want to behave decently rather than be dragged into the gutter? This can be difficult sometimes, especially when under pressure from dirty fighters.

Abusers, for example, often present themselves as the victims. They say: “What else could I do? I am perfectly justified in attacking others, because I am the real victim here.” Sometimes it is not enough for them to win. They take pleasure from making others lose.

How can you stay calm in the challenging situation? How can you be kind rather than cruel? How can you try to do good things? How can you be the best kind of person you can be?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation when you may want to try to behave decently and do good things rather than get dragged into the gutter.

Describe the specific things you can do then to try to behave decently.  

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.




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