There is something simply majestic and inspiring about people who behave extraordinarily under fire. People who (like Nelson Mandela) go through difficult situations and find the strength to do the right thing, control their responses and adhere to an honorable standard. Men and women who treat their opponents and even enemies honorably, and with as much respect for the persons and rights of others as they expect for themselves. Somehow it seems they are not so afraid of an affront to their person but are more interested in finding truth, which enables them to think more clearly and focus on the matter at hand. (Usually in these cases the focus is on something other than “self.”) They continue to reflect and be guided by their chosen principles and standards, and their conversation or interaction is more productive as they are able to observe more and learn from the situation.
It is easy to react to an unpleasant situation with anger or frustration; when we feel hurt (justly or not), don’t like the situation or what someone is saying, our reaction is often to retaliate. Sometimes people perceive a countering idea or comment as an attack (justly or not) and feeling hurt, their reaction is to hurl counterattacks. In this case the reaction is often clouded, as it is difficult for them to perceive whether the original idea is even true or not; all they can see is red. Once in this state, it becomes difficult to think clearly and so they may not even speak to the original issue at all; their goal is to for their side to ‘win,’ not to find truth. So they retaliate with any attack possible in order to subdue their opponent.
What is less common is when people behave better than normal; when a person’s reaction to a difficult situation or conversation is to try to rise above the pettiness, and to behave in a gracious manner. Even in a conversation where they appear to have been personally attacked, some people are still able to think about the situation and respond with decency; their conduct is more “trained” or educated than instinctual. They retain the ability to speak their mind freely, but they don’t need to use bully tactics or assaults to get what they want. They can make their point, and then stand back and analyze its accuracy along with everyone else in the room. Because they are looking for universal truths, not simply pushing “their truths.”
These types of behavior and interaction are very valuable to me in discovering a persons true character, as they give you clues as to the character and sincerity of the person and the veracity of the ideas. As they say; you quickly discover who you (or they) really are when you are under pressure. It doesn’t mean that every person who hurls insults is lying (the best insults are at least partly true, after all), or that the nice guy is always to be trusted, but they are telling signs. They help in discerning where people (and organizations) are coming from, what their standards are and who they are as a result.