If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole.
If you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.
– Raylan Givens (Justified)
Earlier I wrote about being fearlessly dominant. That, of course, leads to a deeper discussion: Is it ever okay to be an asshole?
A lot has been written about how to avoid, eliminate, fire, head off, and refrain from being an asshole. Even Sir Richard Branson has weighed in on the importance of personality and, in doing so, repeated a line by Funding Circle CEO Samir Desai (who in turn was quoting Apple’s Dan Jacobs): “It’s better to have a hole in your team than an asshole in your team!” When you dig deeper into this whole asshole avoidance/aversion/abandonment concept, however, you eventually come to the brutal truth . . .
EVERYONE IS AN ASSHOLE TO SOMEONE AT SOME TIME OR ANOTHER.
Think about it. If you don’t get what you want, then the person standing in your way is a jerk. If you give pushback to someone, you’re an idiot in their eyes. If you’ve ever been thought of as arrogant . . . you’ve been an asshole. If you’ve ever been rude . . . you’ve been an asshole. If you’ve ever been selfish . . . Guess what? You’ve been an asshole. You simply can’t please everyone. You know what that means, by now, right?
And not only can’t you prevent someone from thinking you’re an asshole, there are actually times when intentionally being one serves you and others well. Indeed, there will be times when you need to assert yourself, your position, your beliefs, and your boundaries. Sometimes you just need to appear “dangerous” to someone else in order to protect yourself. There are even times when you need to be forceful and aggressive when you find that other team members, colleagues, and employees just aren’t getting things done.
Now let me draw a clear distinction. There’s a difference between what I’m calling an “occasional” asshole and a “flaming” asshole. You know this latter type. They’re the ones with unmitigated rage. They’re the ones who go out of their way to make other people’s lives miserable. They’re the ones who thrive on destroying everything around them and making certain that everyone suffers as much as possible in the process. They are a living, breathing version of Sherman’s march to the sea – burning every emotional bridge and destroying every foundational relationship in their path. No one needs this type of human cancer in their midst and you should not tolerate them. When you’re confronted by a flaming asshole, I recommend you be an asshole yourself and teach them how to treat you.
But I digress . . .
The ultimate aim of the “no asshole” movement is to make certain that you and the people around you are “decent human beings.” Perhaps the real secret for us all to learn is that most of us are decent human beings. And we must also accept that decent human beings can periodically be assholes while still being . . . well . . . consistently decent. To put this another way, we can care about others and still teach them how to treat us. We can sympathize with another and still demand respect and know our boundaries. We can be assertive without being aggressive. And we can be powerful without being forceful (in fact, you might want to look at Dr. David Hawkin’s book, Power v. Force: The Hidden Detriments of Human Behavior).
So, how can you be a decent human being?
STEP ONE. Relax (a little). Remember that the world is conspiring for your own good. Perhaps things aren’t as disagreeable or frightening as they appear.
STEP TWO. Be warmhearted. I hear the phrase “nice matters” all the time. I think the saying should be “kindness matters.” I like Dr. Marcia Sirota’s comment: “Kindness emerges from someone who’s confident, compassionate and comfortable with themselves. A kind person is loving and giving out of the goodness of their heart.”
STEP THREE. Get off your ass and do something. You are not entitled to anything. And no one is going to hand you anything of value just because you were born.
STEP FOUR. Take some pride in how you look and what you say. It’s really simple . . . if you don’t care enough about you, why should anyone else?
STEP FIVE. Change your friends. This is perhaps one of the more challenging steps I’ve given you. But, if you’re going to surround yourself with unkind people, you will start being like them.
STEP SIX. Be authentic. You are unique and special. Great. That’s not enough. You need to reach out to people and connect with them and show a little vulnerability. It is through the chinks in your armor that we see the real you.
STEP SEVEN. Get over it. One of my rules for life goes like this: You have a Past. Get over it! Well, take that concept and apply it to most everything else. If you want to harbor grudges, nurture your bitterness, or carry around a lot of resentment, you’re headed on a path to being a flaming asshole. And you don’t want that, do you?
I’ll be the first to admit that I I can be an asshole. Among other things, as an attorney, one of my jobs is to bully those who bully others. But I only do that occasionally. I have to be careful though not to let this become a habit or the adrenaline entice me to carry it beyond reasonable limits. I invite you to explore what you do in your own daily rituals that make you an asshole and a decent human being? You’re in for a real eye-opening experience. And with that I leave you with a quote by John Cheese: “Sometimes being a nice person is all about knowing when to be an asshole.”
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