Road to Nowhere

I can’t remember now what set me off, but I was in one of my annoyed, impatient moods, and so we were having a disagreement about something I would usually accept as the status quo.

‘Being a jerk is a shortcut.’

‘No it’s not.’

‘Yes it is.’

‘No, it’s not.’

‘Well, it would be for me.’

It was an effective final word, but I’ve been nagged by it ever since. I meant it at the time and I’m sure I was making a very specific point, but – a shortcut to what? What benefit does one get from being a jerk that isn’t obtainable by, say, not being a jerk?

It’s possible that being a jerk could be a misguided attempt at success and mass respect. We tend to think that if we’re just adamant enough about what (we think) we know, others will come to see us as the geniuses we are. Or we think that slowing down enough to get others’ input or make our colleagues feel appreciated will cost us our chance at winning the rat race. But I don’t think that applied in this case.

No, more likely what I meant was that being a jerk is a coward’s way of communicating. Manage it with enough panache and you can skate, apparently unaffected, out of so many distressing situations. Say something tactless and cause offense? Announce, “But everybody knows I’m a jerk,” and walk away, as if it’s their fault for being too sensitive. Flirt a little too much, give someone the wrong impression and raise hopes you didn’t mean to raise? Instead of the embarrassing but considerate “I’m so sorry; that isn’t what I intended” conversation, just ignore them pointedly! After the initial confusion and hurt, they’ll realize how wrong they were. Clearly, you can’t be held responsible. And while you’re at it, be sure to imply that people who do care about their effect on other people are weak and lacking an individual personality.

What we want is happy, peaceful, drama-free relationships. If you can’t be bothered with other people’s problems, then you can pretend that’s what you have. And it is doubtless easier to “resolve” certain difficult situations by being a jerk. When other people frustrate you, there’s a certain appeal to being so annoying to them that they give up on you. It saves you the hard work of strengthening the relationship and – added bonus! – you get to blame them for leaving you and play the victim.

Yes, I can see how being a jerk could be mistaken for a shortcut. But I suspect if you followed the shortcut long enough, you’d find it was a dead end.

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