4 Fundamental Reasons You're More Of A Jerk Than You Realize
There. I said it. We've all been thinking it for a while, and a lot of us have been talking about doing something about it.
Nothing permanent. But definitely something that lingers.
But don't worry! It's nothing to be embarrassed about. We're all assholes. Everyone is. Here's why.
We Dismiss Everything A Person Says If We Disagree With Them About One Thing
Arguments are stressful and being right is awesome. So when we hear an argument we disagree with, we're always looking for a quick and easy way to dismiss it. But attacking the message itself is often stressful and hard work. So what's there to do? Oh, right! The messenger! Let's whale on that prick!
Come back here, you stinky son of a bitch.
We'll listen to a person just long enough for them to make a single misstep or mistake, or say some other thing we disagree with, and then POW, we use that one little thing to dismiss everything they've ever said and done. "Oops, he used a debatable statistic in his second paragraph. No sense in finishing this article." Or, "No, don't listen to him. He once shook hands with a politician I hate." Or, "He thinks the tax burden has disproportionately shifted over the past couple decades onto the middle class? What does he know? He owns an Xbox."
They're barely even human.
This is also why we love assigning labels to people. It saves us the work of finding even one thing about them to disagree with, by just assigning them all the flaws of whatever group they're in. If you already know that you disagree with everything a "Conservative" or a "Liberal" or an "Xbox owner" says, it saves you the trouble of actually listening to them. "How could rational thought come out of such small heads?" you reasonably cry.
Of course, rational thoughts come out of small heads all the time. No one's wrong about everything. Even your direst political enemy probably still likes fudge, the middle seasons of Star Trek: TNG, and morning sex. You've got more in common than you think.
How big is your head? Be honest.
I should be clear: I'm not asking you to listen to everything every idiot says to you, nor meekly claim that the truth always lies in the middle. Your political opponents are often wrong, and it is usually because of their bizarrely small heads. But they're not wrong about everything, and every now and then, you should try to check your urge to shut someone out because of a minor, unrelated disagreement.
We Think That If Someone Makes A Mistake, It's Because They Suck
What's your first thought when you see someone you don't know make a mistake? You know, when they misfile paperwork, blow a sports play, or drive a car into a pool. "What an idiot," you think. It's fine. We all do it.
Look at this fucking clownboat.
But what do you think when you see a friend or family member make a mistake? You're probably a little more sympathetic. Were they distracted? Drunk? Did someone cut the brakes in their car? You know they're not a moron, so you take a moment to search for reasons why they might have made an honest mistake. We just don't give that benefit of the doubt to most people. It's called the Fundamental Attribution Error, and it basically means that we attribute the mistakes and faults other people make to some fundamental flaw they have, rather than the circumstances they're in.
Maybe he has to deal with a limited budget or outdated equipment. Maybe it is in fact us who are the fucking clownboats.
It's hard to fight this. We simply don't think of people we don't know very well as actual human beings. But when you have time to really think about it, it should be possible to catch this urge. Just guess what that particular clownboat might be going through. The guy who didn't hold an elevator door for you? He might not be a turbo-asshole; he might have just been hurrying to a meeting his job depends on. The girl who shortchanged you on your guacamole? She might not be hoarding that delicious sauce for herself; she might just be conserving it because the next batch is a few minutes late and the lunch rush is on. The man who didn't let you merge in traffic? He might ... hmmm ... The president? ... No. Ninjas? ... Not very likely. Hmmmmmmmmm ...
Man, fuck that guy.
We're Trying To Protect Ourselves From Other Assholes
We can all recall occasions when we were trying to be pleasant and accommodating with someone, and got absolutely trampled for it. Maybe you did a favor for a co-worker, only to find that you'd suddenly inherited a new permanent and unpaid job duty. Or you held a door open for someone, then watched them slam it in your face the next day. Or you've done any work, in any capacity, in the service sector.
"Here's your food, person I have to treat like a human being, despite all evidence indicating otherwise."
And it's even easier to think of examples of assholes who seem to benefit from their squeezing, sphincter-like nature. That one boss or co-worker who succeeds by taking credit for other's work. The aggressive driver who gets places faster by refusing to let people merge. Babies.
We learned from an early age.
Sure, sometimes assholes don't get their way. Yelling at a hotel receptionist just gets them a room by the ice machine. Their career succeeds until it doesn't, because everyone hates them. They die in a fiery wreck when something big and heavy doesn't move out of the way fast enough. But it just doesn't happen enough, does it? Our rivers never seem to run red enough with the blood of jerks. Which is why we all kind of have defenses to prevent ourselves from being taken advantage of. We're cautious about doing favors for coworkers. We arch our backs and hiss when someone comes to join their "friend" in front of you in a queue. We roar and bare our teeth at babies to establish dominance.
"I AM THE LAW AROUND HERE, BRAYDON."
We Think Everyone's Like Us
There's a thing that you probably do when considering the world and other people in it. You ask ourselves, "What would I do in their position?" That's called empathy, and it's the basic tool we use to measure the social world. And it's a good thing we have it. I actually asked you to do it above. You're a sociopath if you can't do this.
"What would I do if I was wearing their skin as a suit?"
The only problem with this very healthy instinct is that the yardstick we use with it is all crooked. It's the "I" part in "What would I do?" Barring an incident with a clone factory or a showdown in a hall of mirrors, the person you're considering is likely to be pretty different than you in a number of important ways.
An example: If I was pulled over by a police officer, and he thought I was a criminal (for whatever reason) and decided to search my car, I'd probably be startled. But I wouldn't be particularly upset, and I'd probably politely deal with him until the mistake had been cleared up. It's just a guy doing his job; I can sympathize with that, even if it is all a minor inconvenience to me. But that's an attitude I can afford to have, because this scenario has never happened to me, and will probably never happen to me, because I am white as hell.
Paper companies use me as a baseline for measuring the quality of their product.
That instinct I'd have to just be polite to the police comes from a lifetime of having gotten no grief from them. Other people have not been given that luxury, and it's completely understandable that their interactions with police will be more tense and confrontational.
It's the same deal with wondering how people can be offended by a joke you found hilarious. It's hard to ignore your gut instincts here -- the laughter you had was genuine. But your instincts and sense of humor are based on your experience and your history, and all the baggage and blind spots inherent in your particular upbringing. What's normal, reasonable behavior for you might not be for someone with a different background.
The solution is to always consider other people's background and circumstances when ... oh god that sounds like so much work.
OK, then. The solution is to only hang out with people exactly like you in every way. No wait, that's Scandinavia, and their food's terrible. Let's not do that.
I don't know. It might be hopeless.
Just let people merge more, OK?
Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and is waving you in. His first novel, Severance, is incredible and available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Apex Books. Join him on Facebook or Twitter.
In case you're looking to step up your asshole game, Bucholz has a couple of handy how-to guides to help you. Just reference 5 Ways To Make A Gang Of Children Lift A Car Off The Ground and 5 Ways To Attack Children With A Stick.
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