Because I have been on the receiving end of some very unfair assumptions and accusations, I find my heart often goes to the accused. It wants to assume these people have good hearts and they acted in a way that was misinterpreted or they simply had a bad moment. I don’t like to assume people are bad… but some people are. Some people really suck. Ghandi had a similar way of thinking as he was quoted as saying, (Strange History), “I do not consider him to be as bad as he is depicted. He is showing an ability that is amazing, and he seems to be gaining his victories without much bloodshed.” Guess who Ghandi was referring to? Think late 1930s… Think leader… Think world event… Are you thinking the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz? That’d be incorrect. Ghandi was referring to Hitler. I’m sure he regretted saying that, especially since it was recorded because clearly Hitler sucked and he was as bad as he was depicted.
At the same time that my heart goes to the accused, I find my heart is very slow to trust people in real life because it’s easy to believe they’re good from a distance, but when it comes to a personal connection, I just don’t trust it. On some level, I realize the world is full good people with bad moments and bad people with good moments, and sometimes these titles get confused. Ultimately, we can all have bad moments that make us look like a jerk (or it could be a sign that we are a jerk). Sometimes what helps is having a clear list of actions/attributes that make someone a jerk to help reduce the risk, which is why I present the following list of “12 Things that Make Someone a Jerk”:
- Guarded: People who are guarded are often protecting themselves, but in their self protection, they end up pushing others away and/or become very hurtful. They can become distant without explanation or they become quick to snap as they assume the worst of people and take everything personally, which causes very unnecessary conflict. There is typically a lack of vulnerability, which would help others be more patient with their snappiness as they’d know the snappiness is like a dog nursing a wounded paw. Instead they lack gentleness or any sense of warmth thereby making it all the harder to put up with them.
- Negative: Jerks tend to only see the worst whether in you, others, or the world in general. Nothing seems good enough as they just want to complain and in some way feel sorry for themselves: “I can’t believe I have to put up with this.” Many times their negative spirit comes from their own self criticism and not liking themselves. People who are good at criticizing others are typically really good at because of how good they are at criticizing themselves, and/or have learned it from a parent or someone special to them. Either way, being constantly subjected to negativity sucks the life out of those around the negative person. The only thing that makes the negativity worse is if the negative person is arrogant and overly positive about themselves.
- Blind: Being blind has many implications and have a variety of sources. I’ve met a number of married people where, when the one complained about how poorly the partner treated them, the partner brushed it off: “I treat you better than I treat myself, so deal with it.” This is mix of guarded, negative, and blind as the person justifies their bad behavior by an unfair comparison. It’d be like a murderer saying, “I shouldn’t go to jail because I only killed one person. That guy killed five people, so I’m fine.”
Being blind can also be the result of projection as almost anyone who accuses someone of something is doing it themselves. For instance, whenever a person says someone else is passive aggressive, 95% of the time the accuser is the culprit. Meanwhile the accused usually accepts it as a possibility, which actually proves they’re not passive aggressive because if they were they’d stab the accuser in the back. This same dynamic is like someone who is cheating is more likely to accuse the partner as cheating. People don’t typically accuse this unless they’ve done it/doing it. The exception is when there’s been some very blatant red flags going up. Quite often when a person finds out their partner cheated, they’re shocked because they weren’t cheating themselves, so it wouldn’t have crossed their minds.
Being blind can also be from a lack of thoughtfulness like smokers who don’t realize their smoke is going into other peoples’ faces. Men are most likely to have this issue as the number one complaint about husbands is we’re not thoughtful, which is often connected to us being easygoing. Being easygoing can be great for reducing criticism of others, but it can lead to not thinking about others since you’re fine so why wouldn’t the other person be as well?
- Self-Serving: Jerks are really good at making it all about them. Whatever they do or think about, it always goes back them. This selfishness means they’re happy to use people because it’s all about pushing their own agenda and they’ll never help others unless it ultimately benefits them. This can be cheating and not caring, conspiring against coworkers, not cleaning the staff microwave after making a mess, etc.
An often missed form of being self-serving is micromanaging. Micromanagers will often justify it as trying to “help” when it really just reduces the opportunity for others to grow and/or shine while preserving what the micromanager wants.
- Closed-Minded: Not only are jerks blind and self serving, they tend to be close-minded – this doesn’t help… obviously. Even if they’re wrong, you’re not going to be able to change a jerk’s mind as they won’t consider your opinions, ideas, or thoughts. Instead, they’ll shut you down. Even worse, don’t expect them to ever let things go. They’ve made up their mind and forgiving isn’t on the agenda. You’ll be forever paying for your mistakes.
- Don’t Read Audience: Some people are jerks without really meaning to be, but it’s the result of not reading their audience. For instance, they can talk in a way that’s really not fitting to their audience, take jokes too far, or miss when someone really needs a kind word or could use some encouragement.
It can also be similar to being Blind insofar that they don’t recognize when someone is hurting. This is particularly a problem when someone is be panicking and the jerk says, “It’s not that big a deal,” or there’s some form of “Suck it up,” without there being any kindness offered. Some people do need to be told to get over it, but this shouldn’t be the first thing we say.
Not reading your audience can even be as simple as “not reading your audience.” For instance, Michael Caine had a neighbor ask him to sign a petition to keep out foreigners from their building and then he introduced this person to his Guyanese wife the person assumed was his cleaner – oops.
Not reading your audience can also be similar to being Negative and seeing things that are aren’t there and/or making false accusations. Accusers rarely realize how damaging a false accusation can be because it’s all about how they feel and not the other person, which also connects to being Self-Serving.
- Sense of Cruelty: Jerks don’t care. They lack compassion and are the first to justify their backstabbing, yelling and insults. They attack without regard and will never apologize unless it’s blatantly clear they made a mistake. This sense of cruelty can also be as subtle as not saying a kind word when it’s needed and not caring about it. It can be someone being overly blunt where it lacks kindness. It’s being critical without being constructive. It’s brushing people off by saying things like “You shouldn’t feel that way.” It’s not just lacking thoughtfulness; it’s not caring that they lack thoughtfulness. It can also be as simple as “I told you so,” or rubbing it in people’s faces: “I knew I was better than you.”
- Know-It-All: Some jerks are very brash and in-your-face about their opinions, which they hold as Gospel truth. They often like to show off how “smart” they are or overcompensate for something. They can lack proper self-reflection, which makes them Blind and Not Read Their Audience. The worst kind of Know-It-All is one that acts as judge. They always get the final say and their opinion is all that matters, which also makes them Self-Serving.
- Entitled: Who doesn’t love someone who acts as if they’re superior in some way? Oh wait; no one. Jerks have a way of talking down to you or making you feel small. Sometimes they’re kicking you down off the perch they think they see you on while other times they’re dragging you down to their level, but either way, the goal is to knock you down. Their tone often feels cold with some rudeness with potential for being dismissive like you’re not worth their time. Being entitled leads to a lack of gratefulness because they’re somehow owed this, which is usually associated to laziness and an unwillingness to work for it themselves. Being Entitled can also allow them to use people without a second thought.
- Refuse Responsibility: No matter how obvious it is the jerk screwed up, they refuse to accept any blame or fault. They’re the kind of driver who will cut you off and give you the finger. Refusing to accept responsibility can be as simple as blaming your partner for everything in a fight and assuming you’re innocent. It often sounds like this: “I had to yell at them because they yelled at me” (a very common excuse I hear as a therapist).
Jerks also avoid helping others or donating to charities because it’s not their problem.
- Misuse Power: Jerks take advantage of others and manipulate to get their way. It’s like when an off-duty cop speeds knowing he can flash his badge and he won’t get a ticket. It’s also when a therapist/teacher/pastor/boss dates a client/student/congregant/secretary. The one that makes me the angriest is when someone says, “God told me to (insert bad behavior).” God corrects people, but He doesn’t want to hurt people for the sake of it.
- Two Face: Jerks will cheat, lie, and be nice to your face and then gossip about you. You simply can’t trust them. Well, that’s not true. You can trust they’ll at some point screw you over.
Bonus: One of my favourite writers wrote: “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Col 3:12b) This means we don’t have to be these things, but we need to try to be. If we don’t at least try, then we become a jerk.
People who are deemed psychopathic lack remorse and guilt because their brains don’t properly develop the ability for compassion. When someone is a jerk and justifies their behavior without a hint of care, they are essentially acting in a way that makes them similar to a psychopath, which means maybe we should reconsider how we care about others.
This week may you avoid being a jerk because you know what can make people a jerk.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people (like me)