Happy New Year and Χρόνια πολλά.
I trust you’ve all been reflecting on the past twelve months and the trials and tribulations that have accompanied it. I also trust you had a big party last night and are probably feeling pretty dusty right now. I myself spent hours at this beach, under a makeshift hut built of driftwood and seagrass, with my partner and my sister. It was awesome. The three of us had been going through some truly rough times with our personal relationships for the past few months (or years), and together we decided the solution boils down to needing to be more of a jerk.
What do I mean, ‘jerk’?
I certainly don’t mean to push everyone aside for one’s own gain, nor is my use of the term synonymous with egotism or anti-social tendencies. Moreover I don’t want to support hostile encounters; no, quite the opposite in fact.
This past year, I have cut out a lot of people in my life. People I’ve known for a long time or a short time. I’ve been far more unapologetically frank with my workmates, my bosses, my professors, and my family. It has dramatically transformed my entire quality of life. I have less friends, but the friends I do have are true friends. I spend a lot less time being angry in my head, ruminating on bad encounters, because all of those awful or borderline-awful people are not present in my day anymore. If they are present, I tell them straight up, and then I don’t ruminate about it because it’s done.
Yep, I’ve become a bit of a jerk. And it is great.
I say ‘jerk’ because it is socially unacceptable to speak one’s mind truthfully, to fight for your own standards and to keep your boundaries honoured. A lot of people cop a lot of flak for opening their mouths, speaking out, and letting their needs be known openly. It can be quite a confronting experience for others who may have learnt that maintaining social etiquette is more important than fostering positive and respectful relationships; we live in a society where we are taught to save face. Unfortunately, when we speak up, we are often perceived as selfish, stubborn, or unsympathetic – a jerk. However, I believe in a world where we can engage with each other in negative but thoughtful ways, where we can process our own negative feelings together, and where we can all fight for our respective needs. That’s why, this year, I am hoping to be more of a jerk.
If this sounds like the plan for you, I’ve put together some lessons I’ve learnt so far about being a jerk in a productive and respectful way.
5 Tips on Being a Jerk
The best jerk has gone through a cumbersome period of tireless self awareness, and emerged on the other side an actualised (or at least actualising) human being. You know who you are, you know what you want, you know what you need; you know your limits, you know your flaws, you know your values and your moral code. You can’t be a real jerk unless you have firm footing within yourself. Otherwise you will fall prey to any number of things: being a jerk for no reason, being a jerk for the wrong reason, being too afraid to be a jerk, spend too much time wondering whether it was right to have been such a jerk, or being a jerk to yourself. Ask yourself: what is important to me? Personally, I spend a lot of time thinking about social justice (see: racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, queerphobia, fatphobia); I spend a lot of time thinking about consent. I spend a lot of time thinking about privilege in all its forms: white, male, cis, hetero, middle class, educated, literate, Christian, able-bodied, thin, beautiful, neurotypical, monogamous, aaaaaaaaaand so on. I spend a lot of time thinking about these things because I am affected by a lot of these things in my daily life.
- Speak Up to Assholes.Someone you’re hanging out with is doing something you’re not into. Maybe they’re taking up too much space – personal, verbal or otherwise – maybe they’re shaming you (see: fat shaming, body shaming, and so on), maybe they’re just being an asshole (racist, *phobic, ignoring consent). No one will be happy with you if you call them out; it is not generally socially acceptable to denigrate someone else in front of them as they’re doing the thing. It is more socially acceptable to bear the awful situation, then whine about it to your confidants later on. But what’s the point of that? That person is getting away with being an asshole, and they’ll probably just become more of an asshole the more they are quietly reinforced or enabled.
Calling someone out is hard, but it can work wonders, not only for your relationships, but for your self esteem. I won’t lie, there’s a good chance you will burn some bridges in doing so – but if you had the choice between converting an asshole into less of an asshole (that may or may not resent you) or keeping a shitty person in your life, what would you choose?
It takes a fair bit of courage and honesty to call someone out, especially if you don’t know them well. I have lost a lot of potential friends this year in doing so, and definitely made some of my coworkers a little more uneasy to talk to me. But chances are, if they are being an asshole, they probably haven’t been told that they’re an asshole yet. If you are not the person to stop the passive enabling of their asshole behaviour, then who will?
The other side of the coin is that you will be surprised at how many people, however hesitantly, accept your criticism and will work with you to find a solution. The best part about being a jerk is that it often leads to a deeper understanding and respect between people, and it happens more often than you think. You never know how someone’s going to react until you try, but the results can be truly extraordinary.
Honour your Needs.
Telling people what you need can be really hard. However, again, the results can be surprising and often empowering.
Sometimes in band rehearsal I was really exhausted or depressed, and I was under a lot of pressure to stand up to play my instrument; instead, I told them I was going to play lying down. My bandmates weren’t too happy about it. There’s something subtle about the difference between standing up and sitting/lying down that must send a message about how committed that person is to the situation, and clearly they thought that in my lying down I was less committed than they were. However, with just a few extra words, I was able to explain that I was still committed, I was just low on spoons that day, and that my body language shouldn’t be a marker of how I feel about being here; I was able to get what I needed, and my bandmates were able to understand my intentions and (hopefully) feel less frustrated about my needs.
Do you not feel like drinking alcohol at that party? Do you feel like leaving that party because you’re tired or you don’t like the vibe? Is someone doing something you don’t like without asking? Sounds like your needs are being compromised, and you may benefit from being a jerk.
This is closely related to the last two points, but it deserves a point of its own.
The true definition of courage comes from the Latin ‘cour’ meaning ‘heart’, and roughly translates to this: ‘to tell your story with your whole heart’. That’s a definition of courage we don’t normally hear; we think of courage as pushing down all your fears and running into the battlefield. But hold on, isn’t that kind of what we’re talking about here too? Pushing down the fears of social exclusion, conflict or embarrassment, and running into the battlefield, to fight for the noble cause of genuine interactions? That sure sounds like courage to me.
There is a lot of good stuff written about courage, a lot of it inspired by Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability.
Learn Good Communication.
We can’t just be a jerk in any old way. There are some ways of communicating that are more effective than others; ways that will help the listener be more receptive to what you’re saying and probably yield more positive results for everyone. It’s really hard to know where to start, because the range of situations are so vast and the range of responses so varied; no one communication style is going to work all the time, of course. There’s already so much on the net about communication anyway, so maybe have a sniff around and see what works for you. In short, I would just say this: it is important to be honest, try to make sure you’re not projecting or whatever (i.e. make sure that your feelings are truly true and not just a symptom of something else; see 1.), and to try not to bring too much loaded language into it. Focus on what’s important, don’t get caught up in the messy stuff (as my therapist said, ‘Stories are great and all, but what it’s really about is people’s processes) and try to let your needs or thoughts be known in as open and painless way as possible.
However, if someone’s really crossing your boundaries and there doesn’t look like you can talk it out, throw all this out the window, use whatever form of aggression that suits you, and get outta there!
So those are my tips for being a jerk. If you’ve read this far, hopefully you’ve found something that’s resonated with you.
Keep it real,
Love & rage,