5 Excuses We Make for Doing Terrible Things
I grew up in an atmosphere where being a dickhead was currency. The more of a douchebag you were, the more people feared and respected you. The more people feared and respected you, the more things ran the way you wanted them to. For instance, I once watched my dad throw a fully decorated Christmas tree off of a second story balcony because he wanted an angel on top instead of a star. When we finished cleaning up the mess, replacing shattered bulbs and buying a new tree, he got his angel. When you've been taught those lessons from birth, they're as much a part of you as your skin, and shedding either is exactly as difficult.
But I'm trying. And the more I try, the more I'm seeing these little common bullshit ways we all try to justify our asshole side. Even if these examples don't describe you, tell me you can't name someone right off the top of your head who says things like ...
"Who Gives a Shit What They Think?"
Also Known As ...
"What the hell does he know about dancing anyway?" and "No one asked for your opinion."
What I've found is that we never use these phrases when compliments are involved. You only hear it when someone is saying something insulting or disagreeable. "He said my painting sucked? Fuck him. I don't care about what he thinks." But you never hear someone say "He thinks my painting is great? Well, he can just suck my dick. When he can paint something of equal quality, he can tell me my work is good."
This situation occurs when someone attempts to supply criticism or feedback on us or something we've worked on, and we shut them down by dismissing their opinions. Your boss tells you that your fries are too salty and that you need to cut back on your swearing in front of the customers. You bite your lip until he leaves and then mumble to yourself, "Bullshit. How the hell would that cock know? He just sits on his ass in that office all day. Who gives a shit what he has to say? I'll slit his fucking throat and bathe in his essence." Then you look up to see three of your co-workers caught in mid "fight or flight" mode.
"If you don't turn your eyes in the other direction, you're going to make the decision for me."
But you find this everywhere, not just at work. Your spouse didn't like the meal you made, so you tell him, "I don't ever see you cooking, so I'm not really concerned with whether you liked it or not. You can make your own next time." Or a friend makes fun of your pile of shit car, and you respond with "Tell you what, you get your own car, and then you can give me shit about mine. At least I have one."
Mine comes in the form of feedback on my writing. Regular readers know that I don't read the comments section. Irregular readers ... probably don't know who I am. Um ... I'm John. Hi. I don't read the comments section. The first time I told people that, the commenters took great offense and went waaaaay out of their way to find different means to message me and sling rage-fueled insults. But I think the reason the emotionally stable ones took offense is because by ignoring their feedback, I'm telling them, "What you say doesn't matter, and therefore you don't matter."
People want to feel like what they say has worth. Hell, I bank my entire career on that idea. The day my writing no longer has perceived worth is the day I stop being paid to weave jokes about buttholes into dark subject matter like abuse. But my top go-to excuse for not reading the comments section has always been the same as the fry cook who blew off his boss: "I don't give a shit what they have to say." And let's face it, that's a cop-out.
"This is my palm. Please leave a message."
Does realizing that mean I'm going to start reading the comments section? Nope. Does it mean I'm going to start taking writing advice from people who aren't my direct peers? Not a chance. What I'm saying is that it's not about modifying your work or actions based on the opinion and feedback of others. It's about recognizing that whether you agree or disagree with them, the opinions of others do in fact matter.
Why That's Dangerous
What you do and say affects the moods of others -- they're not just words. Saying otherwise is just another cop-out. Up until a few years ago, I was absolutely horrible to people on the Net. I'd tell them their work sucked or flat out call them bullshit names like "fucking retard" when they said something I didn't agree with. As you can predict, it always ended up with them exploding in rage back at me, which in turn made me explode in rage right back at them, until it was just one big, wet ball of steaming shit. My day was ruined, and there was a pretty good chance that theirs was, too.
"Hi, I'm Candy, and I'll be your server today. Our specials are- OK, then, I'll just come back when you're a little less cranky."
The same would have held true in reverse if I'd sent them an email telling them how much I loved their work, attaching a picture of my balls with a happy face drawn on. It makes them feel good, which in turn makes me feel good. In both cases, my opinions actually affected someone else because I felt the need to vocalize them. Taking the negative version of that and dismissing someone's opinion as worthless is just a safety net, set up to protect us from criticism. I totally understand why people do it: Nobody likes to have their faults pointed out by others, even if they're only faults in a subjective sense, in the mind of the critic. But that still doesn't make it any less bullshit.
Because in doing that, we're setting ourselves up to believe "Nothing I do is wrong. Anyone who disagrees is just stupid." That's what I've been doing for most of my life, and it's as wrong as a Fred Durst sex video. Cutting that infection out of my life will make me a better person, but I swear it's like quitting heroin while living in a town that's made of heroin. And you're a creature that survives solely on the nutrients that only heroin provides.
Of course, I could always apologize to the comments section people for blowing them off, but ...
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"If They're Not Apologizing, Then Neither Am I!"
Also Known As ...
"I'm not doing any more chores until one of these people gets off their ass and helps" and "If that's going to be your attitude, we just won't go out at all!"
I hear the latter example all the time, and I've used it enough times in the past, myself, to be considered mentally unstable. It's a complete overreaction to a very common situation in which the other person just isn't as into something as we are. For instance, we plan a surprise vacation to Vegas, but the other person doesn't like big cities, hates gambling and doesn't get into stage shows. It sucks because we think we're doing something awesome, not just for ourselves, but for the others going with us.
When the others aren't doing back flips upon hearing the surprise, we take offense, thinking they aren't appreciative. So we whip out that passive-aggressive move to show our frustration, and in a more subtle way, guilt the person into at least pretending to enjoy our idea of taking grandpa out to legally fuck strippers.
"I took out my teeth so I don't injure a nipple!"
In an argument, it's more of a case of a power struggle. There's a feeling that whoever apologizes first is the weaker of the two. Like we're conceding defeat or "caving in" by saying we're sorry. Obviously, from a logical standpoint, we know that's a ridiculous notion, but when you're in the throes of anger, that seems to be the default frame of mind. And in that situation, the argument is still very much going on, even in silence. Instead of working it out with a discussion, we're using the silence as a weapon, refusing to give any ground until the other shows "weakness" and gives up their ground.
Once they finally cave and apologize, then we can safely respond with the same. It's a case of "Well, as long as you're doing it, I suppose I should, too. But it's about time you realized I was right."
"Here, I bought you this fuckin' thing. Now bend over."
Why That's Dangerous
In both of the situations that I described, it's allowing our own decisions and actions to be dictated by the decisions and actions of others. We're no longer operating out of initiative or being proactive. We're operating as a response ... a retort in physical form. We make it a case of someone farting in our face, forcing us to punch them in their asshole.
Not doing chores until someone else jumps in and helps is a valid grievance, but more often than not, that ultimatum takes place inside our head instead of being tossed onto the table for discussion. It's the dog turd that we decide to leave on the floor, just to see how long it takes for someone else to clean it up. Then using that information as ammunition later down the line:
"It's just like you to avoid this discussion, isn't it? Just like you avoided the dog turd for six weeks until someone else finally cleaned it up. And surprise, surprise, guess who that was?" By acting in response like that, we're taking all of the blame for a bad situation off of ourselves and placing it on the shoulders of those we're responding to. "I'm behaving this way because you made me." "I'm not canceling the vacation because I'm mean. I'm canceling it because you were acting like you were being forced to go at gunpoint, and I'm not going to be the person who makes you do things you don't want to do."
"And then I found out that we don't even have a dog!"
Our dickhead actions aren't our fault. It's theirs. But that's OK, because ...
"He'll Get Over It."
Also Known As ...
"Man up, and stop being a pussy" and "Oh, I was only joking. Don't be so sensitive!"
You can cherry pick examples of this from just about any setting. At work, it's a co-worker who just got her ass chewed out for coming in late the third time this week. She storms out of the boss' office, turns to you and starts unloading about how much of an unforgiving asshole he is. "Like he's never been late. Or had problems getting the kids off to school." And all you can tell her is "You know that's just how he is. Just get over it and get back to work." Or a housewife who just finished up the worst day of her life, dealing with an overly aggressive loan officer demanding money she doesn't have, then arguing with her angsty teenager about bullshit she could care less about, then having one hour to do four hours' worth of housework ... and she's already been up since 3 a.m. She just needs to unload the stress on a friend to get it off of her chest. But the second she starts, she hears, "You think that's bad? Girl, you got it easy. Let me tell you about my day!"
This is the environment I grew up in. I'm not just picking on my parents here -- this was the train of thought that ran through every group of aunts, uncles and cousins in my entire family. When I was 8 years old, I dropped a piece of firewood on my hand and broke one of my fingers in three places. My mom's reaction was "Suck it up. Crying won't make it feel any better." My cousin once sat on a pair of scissors, jamming it about two inches into his ass cheek. When my aunt was cleaning the wound that obviously needed medical attention, she and his brothers were making jokes like "Oh, chill out -- it's just a cut. Bend over and take it like a man."
"Wait, you're talking about penis, aren't you?"
Neither parent in either situation was doing that because they hated us or were annoyed by our tears. They were trying to teach a pretty rough, very situational lesson: that there are some shitty things in life that can't be fixed on the spot. That sometimes you have to just grit your teeth and wait for the pain to go away all on its own.
Or she was just really high and couldn't drive to the hospital until she sobered up. But you get the point -- there's a moral in there somewhere.
As a dad, I've found myself doing this with my own kids, though not to that extreme, because I understand the basic principle of "If your child has broken bones or is bleeding profusely, get them to a hospital, you fucking dumbass." But there comes a point where they have to toughen up because it's not going to be long before they turn 18 and get released into the wild. They can't do that unprepared. So if one of them comes in crying because another kid was calling him names and making fun of him, that side of me automatically kicks in, and I find myself sometimes saying, "You'll live. They're just words. Go play."
"Oh, and tell him I said his dad is a dumb cunt. He'll respect that."
It's not just a kid thing, though. I've found myself thinking this about adults who come to me with problems. It's easy to look at someone who's in the throes of depression and think "What the fuck do you have to be sad about? You have a nice house, a car, food in the fridge ... you're living better than most people you know. Get over it, for Christ's sake, and stop feeling sorry for yourself."
Why That's Dangerous
It's another case of completely blowing off someone else's very real feelings and very real problems, both mental and physical, so that you don't have to deal with it. By doing that, we're teaching both children and adults alike that problems vary in importance on a sliding scale, and those that don't rank high enough on the Worthy of Discussion chart should be bottled up. That they shouldn't bother us with such petty bullshit.
We see this all the time in cases where we take a joke too far and offend someone. "Yeah, you would like this restaurant. Your fat ass likes every restaurant ... oh, come on, don't give me that look. You know I was just joking. Christ, you can't make any jokes around black people without them getting all huffy. Oh, what now?"
"Step off, I'm about to call the Bug Up Your Ass police!"
It's an excuse we make to avoid having to admit that we were wrong and just apologize. So just like the last example, it's a means of insulting someone and then blaming them for being offended. How fucked up is that?
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"I Wasn't Really Trying, LOL!"
Also Known As ...
"Oh, these old rags? It's just some old clothes I threw together" and "You like my crappy drawing? It's just something I farted out in an hour."
This one is so subtle that if we didn't devote any serious thought or analysis to it, it would slip right by most of us, completely unnoticed. It normally only gets a surface glance because it comes across as very innocent and forgettable. The reason is because it sounds like we're just being gracious for the compliment, but we're also being humble in accepting it, saying that we didn't intend for the target of the praise to be anything special. We weren't striving for glory -- we were just going about our daily lives when this thing that you liked happened to fall out of our ass along the way.
But that's actually where the problem lies. What we're actually saying, even if it's only on a subconscious level, is that this thing that the other person liked -- the thing that they thought was good enough to give us vocal praise -- came out that awesome with virtually no effort on our part. So if that was created while we were just half-assed dicking around, imagine what we could do if we really put in the time and effort!
"Man, I could headline packed, standing-room-only venues!"
"You can't even fathom the amount of pure, untapped talent that I have bottled up inside of me. If I ever choose to unleash it, the world will never be the same."
Why That's Dangerous
It's a means of setting up yet another safety net that prevents us from committing to a full-on effort of any sort for any project. Rejection sucks, and in any profession or classroom, it is absolutely going to happen. In the gritty, real adult world, there is no such thing as someone pitching a perfect game. We are going to eventually have an off day, or accidentally over-season a dish, or sing a bad note, or ejaculate too early on our porn set ... any one of a billion reasons for putting out subpar work.
Google was down ...
We're human, and that's a hard bitch of a reality to admit. That faults are expected of everyone because they are as unavoidable as a boner at the Tomb Raider booth at Comic-Con. But for many people, that rejection, or even the idea of having to face failure, is unbearable, so we insinuate a wealth of hidden talent that we're just too humble to display.
So now, if we actually do try but happen to put out something shitty, that same fallback line is right there for easy use: "You don't like it? Oh, that's totally understandable and expected. I barely even put any thought or effort into it. It's just a throwaway thing I did for shits and giggles and not worthy of judgment." It's a near perfect means of avoiding ownership of failure, and that's not good for anyone who plans on getting better at their craft or just growing as a person. We all have to be able to step back, accept those occasional shortcomings and learn what kung fu style we need to use in order to kick their ass. To recognize them for what they are and say "What can I do to eliminate those mistakes on the next project?"
Get a better phone?
There are people out there who get so deeply rooted into this type of thinking that they sabotage entire school careers with it. Doing everything half-assed because the idea of failing is so horrifying, they can't allow themselves to be put into that position. It's better to be putting out average work with flippant attempts than to put your entire heart into a project and have it crushed with a bad review.
"I'm an Asshole, and I'm Proud of It!"
Also Known As ...
"I don't take shit from anyone" and "I say what I want. If other people can't handle the truth, they can fuck off!"
I've known soooo many people like this. The Internet is saturated with them. And let's get this straight right off the bat: It is NOT the same as "I speak my mind" or "I'm opinionated." Huge difference. Being opinionated or outspoken is a perfectly legitimate personality type, even if it's annoying to some people. What I'm talking about is the needlessly aggressive bullshit where a person tries to justify being an asshole by wearing it as a badge of honor. Guys who say, "Yeah, I know I'm a dick -- who cares?" Using it as a sign of toughness and strength. Or girls who hold up "I'm a bitch" as a false torch, confusing it for "strong" and "independent."
People treat it as if it were a heightened level of dominance that others should strive to achieve. It is not. It's being combative, purely out of a love for confrontation. There's a rush a person feels when they verbally beat down someone else and make them concede their point of view. What that person doesn't realize is that most of the time, the only reason the other person is backing down is because it's the closest exit from the conversation and the annoying mouth that it's escaping.
"You're such a dumbass, thinking you could have a political debate with a guy like me. Stupid."
I don't know who decided that this is a desirable personality type, but it seems to me that the only people who honestly think that are the ones who are that way. In reality, it's a coward's means of not owning up to the fact that they never learned how to speak to or respect another human. A way of covering up the fact that they never learned lessons that the rest of us learned at age 8.
The sad part is that this is an extremely easy frame of mind to fall into because every conversation turns into a competition, and the reward for "winning" is feeling like the world's smartest badass. It's walking in, thinking you're Dwayne Johnson:
And walking out feeling like the Rock:
"Seriously, do you smell what I'm cookin'? Or are you just pretending to get a whiff?"
Why That's Dangerous
Once you fall into that pattern of communication, it's virtually impossible to concede anything to anyone in almost any situation. Not just the people you're comfortable with, like family and friends, but people of actual authority, like bosses, police officers and the government agency tasked with greenlighting your methods of curing homosexuality.
Once "I'm a badass whose will can never be bent" sets in, you've actively placed yourself in a position where, in your mind, you are always right, and nobody can convince you otherwise. The real trap is that we've created a culture that promotes this as a lovable, quirky character, rather than a festering, infected pus sack of a human. Dr. House is a classic example. Dwight from The Office. Bender from The Breakfast Club. Han Solo. The list is miles long.
In real life, it's hard for anyone to stand beside you when you need them because you're such an inexcusable prick that you've created a world where people prefer that a catastrophe keeps you away from them. Instead of extending a hand to help you up, they picture extending a foot to crush your windpipe.
But you don't care -- you're an asshole, and you're proud of it. Fuck anyone who doesn't agree with your attitude. They just can't handle how edgy you are.
John has a Twitter, where he regularly types random things that he's usually ashamed of later.
For more Cheese, check out 5 Unexpected Causes of Awkward Conversations With Your Kids and 5 Unhelpful People You Meet in Every Hospital.