I admire Michelle Obama. She’s lived for more than eight years in a glaring public spotlight with a media magnifying glass overhead, and during that time she’s remained steadfast in her actions and words. So I believe that what we see is largely the real deal. She is a role model in many ways – successful lawyer, committed mother, wife, sister and daughter, champion of children’s health, and the first African-American First Lady of the United States. During her speech at the July Democratic National Convention she won my respect yet again with these now-famous words: “When they go low, we go high.” Seven simple words that tell us much about this woman’s character; seven simple words that tell us much about what she models for her daughters; and seven simple words that we can all learn from.
To me, the idea of going high when someone goes low speaks to dignity and grace under pressure. It reminds us that we lose something of ourselves when we meet insult with more insult, pettiness with more pettiness, or cruelty with more cruelty. But does going high mean taking it on the chin? Does it suggest we must silently endure attacks by those who fling insults our way? Should we adopt a pacifist posture? I am going to argue no. Going high does not negate strong action (or reaction). To me, going high means addressing a wrong with a right. And for girls and young women, that right includes having their voices heard.
There are superb role models who show us how to speak up while still going high. Emma Watson, in her role as UN Ambassador for Women, talked about how she was emboldened rather than frightened when her speech on feminism garnered ugly and demeaning on-line threats. The ugly nature of the threats against her only strengthened her resolve to have her voice heard. Nandini Ramani, Twitter’s Vice President of Engineering, talked about the phenomena of ‘mansplaining’, a subtle form of condescension that she deals with in the workplace. Her advice to young women? “Speak up, even when it’s hard.”
In both these instances, we see strong, intelligent women who respond to those who go low with dignified words, intelligent thought and brave action. They go high but they don’t walk away. They assert their right to have their voices heard and encourage others to do the same.
As we continue to build Trafalgar’s community together, let’s continue the incredible Trafalgar spirit I saw on display at Camp Kilcoo. Let’s have fun learning together and living together. And let’s remember to demonstrate kindness and thoughtfulness for everyone around us. And finally, if it happens that we are faced with hurtful or angry words (or even actions), let’s remember: When they go low, Trafalgar girls go high!