That’s my mantra for this year.

On New Year’s Day I took a long, quiet walk around my neighborhood. Mindlessly looking at the buds on the leafless trees, a phrase kept running through my head. ‘Stay above the fray.’ I wasn’t thinking about any particular fray or experiencing any particular stress at the time. Still, the thought was simple and settling.

I decided to make it my phrase for 2019. Something personal (well, at least until I blogged about it today) I come back to from time to time to keep me from getting tangled in energy-sucking lose-lose situations.

It’s been freeing and effective. I’m not prone to drama as is, but the preponderance of potential frays I’ve encountered this year is disproportionately profuse. (Perhaps that last word was a preposterous alliterative indulgence).

Humans want to be on the side of right. We want to stand for justice. But most of the time, we actually don’t. I mean, we want to want to, and want to not be passive in the face of bad stuff, but in most cases we aren’t willing to bear real costs for a cause. That’s nothing to feel guilty about. If I were Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting, this is the part where I’d give you a big hug and say, “Scarcity is not your fault.”

The worst thing to do in the midst of constrained ability to care is pretend. Even worse is to play at caring when you lack clarity on whether any of the sides are right, let alone the energy to pay a price for one or the other.

It’s not so much the particular battle at hand, but the fray itself that’s a danger. The belief in the need to enter every fray is a vortex that reduces you to only what your willpower can sustain. That’s pretty small compared to what you can be at your best, when incentive structures are aligned with interests to maximize your potential even though you’re not a saint.

When my Spidey-sense tingles and I smell a fray, I repeat my New Year’s Day phrase. Stay above the fray. Stay above the fray. It kills the boil in my blood and brings me back to my better self.

I don’t want to descend into frays. I want to ascend to my own definition of progress. In the process, I have to overcome challenges, some of which resemble battles and incur costs. But those are my battles on my chosen path. They’re not frays at large that pull me in. Staying above the fray isn’t about running away from the good fight. It’s recognizing that most fights aren’t good, even if some of the people in them are.