I know in the 90s I used the word with friends and acquaintances of both genders. One butch lesbian friend was very fond of using “Dude!” to mean, “You can’t be serious!” for instance. So even though I knew that the word originally meant (back in the 1800s) a foppish young man who dressed in overly-fashion-conscious clothes and affected a sophisticated manner, and then later had morphed to describe a man from the city visiting the western countryside who was unfamiliar with physical labor and the necessities of life on the range, I thought of it as a gender-neutral term.
But it’s not… Read More…
Years ago a very good friend pulled me aside and asked me why I had verbally bullied a mutual friend… again. It was the first time that someone had called me a bully. I had never thought of myself as a bully. I had spent my childhood and teen years being the victim of bullies. Not that I even used the word “victim” back then. It had taken a therapist quite some time to even get me to admit that being the child of a physically abusive father meant that during the time I was living with him I’d been a victim of abuse, for goodness sake!
I protested—specifically alluding to the years of abuse and bullying and how I would never treat someone the way I hated being treated—but my friend didn’t let me deflect. He repeated the question. The truth is, once he had labeled the behavior for me, I realized he was right. I had been treating the mutual friend exactly the way I hated being treated myself.
And I hated myself for it once I forced myself to look at my behavior objectively. I apologized to the friend I’d bullied. I resolved not to do it again. I tried to make changes in my behavior—not just toward that friend, but to everyone. I didn’t always succeed.
I still don’t always succeed.
One of the lessons I took away from the self-examination and my subsequent struggles not to bully people or otherwise be a jerk is to extend other people slack when they are jerks to me. And not just to extend the courtesy others have extended me, but more slack than I have received. Or I should say even more slack than I am aware of, because I’m sure that I don’t notice all the times I’ve behaved less than kindly to someone.
Friends, family, and casual acquaintances had remained friends even when I was a jerk. The least I could do was to forgive other people’s occasional lapses.
This doesn’t mean turning into a doormat and letting people walk all over me. Like many things in life, it’s about finding a balance. Recognize that some unkindnesses are inadvertent, but don’t enable abuse.
The last several weeks has been difficult. Several little things have going wrong in my personal life. I’ve misplaced a bunch of unrelated things, for instance. Our car was rear-ended, and then almost exactly a week later, someone broke into the car and stole an iPod, a hand truck, and a bunch of smaller things. Something has gone awry on the car stereo and it won’t stay paired with my phone, which was how I was going to stream music in the car since the iPod was stolen. My husband has come down with a cold that either won’t go completely away, or he’s caught a bunch of unrelated bugs one after the other. My own health has been a little weird lately… I could go on.
Most of it is minor annoyances that we’ll sort out. It could be a lot worse. I know and love people who are going through a lot worse. Which makes me feel whiny for even mentioning any of it.
I know I’ve been having trouble not acting all cranky on everyone. I suspect I’m failing more than I realize. I also suspect that other things that irritate me are not nearly as bad as I think they are; I’m just already cranky, so I overreact.
This isn’t a bid for sympathy. Nor am I trying to excuse anything I may have said or done or will say or do. It’s more of a reminder that everyone is dealing with so much that we don’t know about. Often they don’t even realize how stressed they are. So allow people to make small, non-harmful mistakes. Allow yourself to make non-harmful mistakes.
Everyone is a jerk some of the time. Sometimes with good reason, sometimes less so. Most are just trying to survive. Other people give us a pass every now and then.
Return the favor.
There are so many situations that would be improved if only people knew how to apologize. A good apology isn’t really that hard to make. When the author known as Lemony Snicket recently made a strange comment at the National Book Awards after Jacqueline Woodson won in the young adult category for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, he apologized as if he meant it. He characterized his comment as “monstrously inappropriate and yes, racist.” He said he shouldn’t have said it, he realized he shouldn’t have said it, and he’s sorry he said it. And he recognized that his words didn’t just hurt Woodson.
Then, noting that he made this remark under a circumstance where what he was supposed to be doing was help shine a light on great books, he donated $10,000 to a campaign for diversity in publishing, and asked everyone else to donate, noting that for the next 24 hours he would match all donations received up to 100,000.
None of which makes is comment retroactively all right, but because he didn’t go with the typical, “if people were offended, I apologize,” or “my comments were misunderstood,” or “anyone who knows me in daily life knows this isn’t the kind of person I am.”
When people go one of those routes, they aren’t apologizing, they’re making excuses and trying to get out of trouble. They don’t really believe that what they said or did was wrong. And they don’t believe that anyone who is offended is “legitimately” hurt.
It isn’t fun to admit that you’re wrong. Most of us are not socialized to admit that we are wrong about something. We’re taught that being wrong is bad—not just a mistake, but that there must be something seriously wrong with us if we are wrong.
It’s a lot of fun.
It’s especially fun when our involvement in a particular enthusiasm is new. One of the reasons why is that when we first discover a new book or series or band that we really like, often most of our existing friends have never heard of it. And we may try to get them interested, and it doesn’t grab them quite the way it does us. And we may think that maybe this new thing isn’t as cool as we think it is, or maybe worry that we’re boring our friends. So if we then find some people who are as enthusiastic as we are about the new thing, we suddenly feel validated. “Yes! I’m not alone!”
But the sweet spot is where we have found a new thing, found new people who seem nice and like this new thing as much as we do, and where at least some of our closest friends also like this new thing as much as us. That’s a win-win-win!
Sometimes that triple-win can be misleading. Let me explain… Read More…
Not just my keys. I regularly misplace my wallet, my phone, my glasses, my hat… Almost every time I prepare to leave the house, I spend a few minutes trying to figure out where something that I need to take with me is. Several times every week my poor, long-suffering husband has to help me figure out where I left something.
And I hate it!
I have tried to fix this for pretty much my entire life. My mom used to tell the story of the day she found me wandering the house in tears, looking under papers, inside drawers, under the furniture, and so on, because I couldn’t find my glasses. I was seven or eight years old at the time. I told her I had looked everywhere. I was angry at myself for misplacing the glasses. I was afraid of what punishment my dad might mete out if they were broken or lost permanently. I was nearly hysterical. Read More…
Goodness knows I’ve vented about crazy family members many, many times.
I think we’ve all been there, at least once. For some the ordeal happens at every visit home and every holiday. Others only experience it occasionally. Venting about it afterward can be a valuable means of relieving stress. Better to share some stories with sympathetic friends than to strangle your racist uncle, homophobic brother-in-law, or Bible-thumping sibling, at Grandma’s dinner table, right? Read More…
It’s not just that suicide rates don’t go up, nor merely that psychiatric admissions don’t go up. The studies show that suicide rates actually go down at each major holiday, and that psychiatric admissions reach their lowest point in the weeks immediately before Christmas.
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.