In the opening episode of season four of Justified, Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens tells a criminal he has locked in his trunk, “If you meet an asshole in the morning, you met an asshole. If you meet assholes all day, you’re the asshole.” I had never heard that saying before, but I had become familiar with the principle.
I have seen it again and again. Many times, through the various fandoms and other activities I’m involved with, I meet people who are always saying that most people are awful. Most of their co-workers are incompetent or are constantly undermining them. And this experience is repeated every time they change jobs. Every relationship they get into falls apart. Most of their former friends betrayed them or let them down in some way, and they have almost no long term friends. They like to go on about all the reasons that they would be a good catch, and they don’t understand why no one will date them. They grumble about the fact that no one likes nice guys.
And just about every time when I get a chance to get to know these people who have all these horror stories, they act like jerks.
The problem is that they have confused “being civil in expectation of being rewarded” with being genuinely good. They have confused “what can this person do for me” with being genuinely interested.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that everyone who has bad experiences with friend, dates, or co-workers is a jerk. Everyone has bad things happen to them. We all have had to work with or be around people who are less than wonderful—sometimes even quite awful people.
However, if nearly every person you have ever worked with at every workplace is incapable of completing tasks correctly, or is uncooperative, conspires against you, is unappreciative of your skills, takes credit for your work, or always unfairly assigns blame to you, you need to take a good hard look in the mirror.
If virtually every person who have ever been romantically involved with cheated on you, or was “crazy,” or never appreciated you, or always demanded sacrifice from you without any reciprocation, or caused all the problems in the relationship, you need to learn to take an objective self assessment.
If time after time nearly everyone you befriend turns into a demanding jerk, or never has time for you, or is only available when they want something from you, is always critical, is never supportive, or otherwise betrayed you again and again, you need to re-evaluate your choices.
Experiencing such a string of similar bad situations isn’t proof positive that you’re a world-class jerk. It’s possible that you are a really bad judge of character. It’s possible that you have such low self-esteem that your opinion becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s possible that you are sabotaging yourself in some other way.
But when everyone is letting you down in every situation, there is no chance that you aren’t contributing to the situation in some way.
Many jerks are sincerely unaware of just how badly they treat others. Being a jerk isn’t just about calling people bad names, or stealing from them, or physically assaulting them. There are so many ways you can disrespect people.
For instance, a friend might hear that you’re looking for a new job, and puts in a good word for you at their workplace when you apply. Then you blow off the interview because something else came up, or you forgot what day it was, or whatever. You think that it didn’t cost your friend anything, but they’ve now lost some credibility with their employer. Now any time they recommend anything, or simply report about an issue at work, there will be a tendency on the part of their supervisor to doubt them, because they were wrong about you. You do something like that to someone, and they are going to be very reluctant do extend any favors to you again.
It was most strongly driven home for me when, after dating a bunch of guys that kept not working out in very similar ways, I finally had to admit that the only thing they all had in common was that I had picked them. I couldn’t control how a guy was going to feel about me, but I did have control over who I asked out or who I said yes to.
Everyone vents. Everyone shares frustrations and disappointments. I am as guilty of that as anyone. But when all you have is frustration and disappointment, when there is never any redeeming friendship, acquaintance, or association, you need to stop complaining, stop blaming, and figure out what thing about yourself needs to change.