So let’s talk about jerks1 We know they’re out there. You see them everyday. Worse, you may be one.
(Update: I was asked for a printable one-sheet short version, so I did it.)
As Jeff Foxworthy might say, you might be a jerk if:
1. You think it’s all about you.
You may indeed be a smart, successful, and very knowledgeable person, but let that fact be demonstrated by your life and actions. People are generally pretty perceptive. They’ll figure it out. The more you tell people how much you know, how important you are, or how right your opinion is, the less likely they are to listen, much less respect you.
Maybe you hide your arrogance behind a mask of professionalism, but the real jerk emerges when things get tough. I’m constantly amazed by successful, well educated people who seem so cool and collected until something doesn’t go their way. When that happens, exit Dr. Jekyll and enter Mr. Hyde. Are you the type to lose your freaking mind and tell people exactly what you think, how important you are, and how you demand everything goes according to your demands? If any pretense of understanding or mercy goes out of the window when you don’t get your way, you’re a jerk and others will see you as nothing more than a petulant child.
2. What’s yours is yours and what’s theirs is negotiable.
There’s a scene in the movie Sense and Sensibility where the family estate has been passed to the son following the death of his father. His father’s dying request was to take care of his step mother and half sisters. With only a bit of discussion, the son and his selfish wife manage to reduce the original stipend provided for the woman from a respectable sum to a small inadequate token. They convince themselves that the final amount is totally reasonable and, in fact, quite generous on their own part.
Several times in my life, I have found myself “partnering” with a jerk-in-disguise on a purchase or a collaborative project. It always starts with a sense of “We’re in this together, 50/50. It’s you and me, bro.” Things go well for a while, but circumstances eventually change. That’s when the jerks show their true colors and you find yourself paying for things that you don’t own or debts that you never incurred. Not only do jerks have the ability to skip out on you, but they can even make you feel guilty for suggesting that they take any responsibility.
Are you so wrapped up in the your own needs and desires that you can’t see anyone else’s needs, especially if it may be a sacrifice or inconvenience to you? Are you adept at rationalizing that it’s “really their fault,” even when you bear some responsibility for the situation. Do you tend towards the opinion that it “sucks to be them,” while counting yourself lucky? Yeah… you’re probably a jerk.
3. You expect others to accommodate your jerkishness.
I once worked with a jerk that announced “The holidays are coming. That means that my evil twin will be showing up. Be prepared.” Essentially, this guy hated the holidays and it made him angry and short-tempered (more than usual) for those few months. Rather than change his own behavior or seek out appropriate coping mechanisms, he decided to indulge his feelings and make it the responsibility of others to deal with the consequences.
Maybe life has dealt you a difficult hand. Perhaps you endure genuine hardships, abusive relationships, or tragic losses. Those circumstances genuinely suck, but they cannot dictate the way you respond to them. You are solely responsible for the way in which you react to the world around you. No one makes you a jerk. You choose to do that all by yourself. You cannot refuse to take responsibility for your actions and you cannot make others responsible for accommodating your actions.
4. You break trusts (large and small).
“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent!”
My son recently quoted that bit of Dr. Suess straight from memory. I was surprised and impressed until my wife reminded me that he has listened to Horton Hatches The Egg a bajillion times on audiobook. Nevertheless, it’s a good reminder of how not to be a jerk.
Trust is not purchased or given freely in a single instance. Trust is earned slowly over a time. It is the fulfillment of thousands of promises, spoken and unspoken, large, and small. It’s the result of a consistent and unwavering commitment to common courtesies, fairness, follow-through, and personal responsibility.
You really are a jerk if you can’t keep simple commitments like spending time with loved ones, constantly going back on your promises, or leaving other people with your messes. It’s even worse if you actually break trusts by lying to cover your butt. Trust requires you to honor both yourself and others. You need to consider yourself worthy of trust and to respect the trust that others place in you.
5. You’re a gossip.
This is an insidious way of being a jerk, because you may not even realize you’re a jerk. In fact, many gossips consider themselves “helpful” by facilitating the flow of information. In reality, gossips destroy relationships and other people with half-truths, rumors, half-baked opinions, and outright lies.
Ask yourself “Is this my story to tell, or does it belong to someone else?”
Better yet, take Craig Ferguson’s advice:
Does this need to be said?
Does it need to be said by me?
Does it need to be said now?
If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then shut up and don’t be a jerk.
6. You use mean humor.
I once debated a friend who said “all humor is based on cruelty.” I didn’t agree, but there is certainly a lot of humor out there based on cruelty. It’s easy to laugh at that sort of humor, especially if you don’t know the victim or they’re a character in a movie. However, we live in the real world, and the real world works by relationships. If you communicate by making fun of those around you, belittling them or embarrassing them, then that makes you a jerk.
I have to tell my kids “It’s only funny if everyone is laughing.” It works for adults as well.
7. You’re just plain mean.
This is pretty self-explanatory. If your entire personality is grouchy and you spew venom at everyone you meet, then you’re a jerk. Get saved. Get counseling. Get a life. Just get over it and grow some manners.
Worse yet, if you treat strangers well but you’re mean to your family and peers, then you’re both a jerk and a liar.
8. You demand respect, and grant none for others.
I’ve seen jerks barge into the boss’ office and demand a meeting right there on the spot as a “professional courtesy.” What the heck does that mean? No amount of “courtesy” allows you to dictate when and how someone must pay attention to your needs.
Some people allow their egos to run unchecked. They convince themselves that they are so important that everyone around them should accommodate their needs. In turn, they fail to give any consideration to the needs of others. It’s not all about you. Get over it. Say please and thank you or show a little patience once in a while.
9. You have no filter.
Not every thought that enters your head needs to be shared. Much like gossip, please ask yourself “Does this really need to be said?” If not, keep your mouth shut and let people consider you wise, considerate, and thoughtful.
When you declare that you are the type that “just speaks your mind” or “calls ‘em how you see ‘em,” you are actually declaring “I really love my thoughts and the sound of my own voice, and I don’t give a crap about what anyone else might say.” You’re not really “laying all of the cards on the table” to facilitate communication. What you’re doing is verbally bullying the people around you, challenging them to dispute your opinion at their own peril.
You have one mouth and twice as many ears. Use them accordingly.
10. You consider some people “beneath you” and treat them accordingly.
How do you treat the person that brings your food in a restaurant, takes your customer service call, or bags your groceries? Do you humiliate them? Speak rudely to them? Ignore them? You’re probably a jerk.
How you treat the people that provide services for you says volumes about your personal character. I know a woman who would go to a salon for her “goddess time.” She demanded that the staff there cater to her every whim, insisting that they call her “goddess” when they spoke to her. If it was an attempt at humor, then no one got the joke. Most people assumed she meant what she said, and she made it clear who was the deity in the room.
Every single person that you meet has as much right to draw breath as you do. They deserve your respect.
That’s my list.
It’s not exhaustive. I’m sure there are other ways people can invent to be jerks. In fact, the list may be infinite. On the other hand, this list isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition either. You may be a colossal jerk, but only in one or two of these areas.
Nobody’s perfect. We all are jerks sometimes. The key is that we are also capable of profound changes in our own lives. It costs no money or special training beyond a committed decision to change how you live. You may be a jerk, but you don’t have to continue to be one.
Some people say that it takes a thousand “attaboys” to offset one negative comment. Some of us have a lot of catching up to do. Let’s get started.
- I wanted to title this “10 Ways To Know That You’re The Asshat.” That’ really what I was thinking when I wrote this. I mean, really; some people are just asshats, and some are just plain assholes. In the end, I succumbed to the cultural idea that “nice boys shouldn’t write essays with naughty titles,” and went with “jerk” instead. I doubt if I would get much in the way of search engine love from the word “asshat” anyway. [↩]