TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains what I think are some “inconvenient truths”. It is likely to make you very uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable, too. Please remember that you do not have to accept my logic or opinions. If you disagree, you are welcome to comment, as long as you keep your comments respectful. Educate us. Help us understand. Point us in the direction of evidence we didn’t know about and therefore haven’t considered. Give us some space to process new information. Don’t judge and dismiss us based on one word, one thought, our confusion, or our differences. Let’s strive for unity.
(Updated from 11/14/2016)
I drafted this post before we elected Donald J. Trump to serve as the 45th President of the United States. Like many people worldwide, I was shocked by that election result. I did not vote for him, and I absolutely cannot condone many of his behaviors. Nevertheless, our democratic process produced him as our next President, and as an officer of the New York State Courts and a citizen of this country, I chose to respect the process even with its faults. This doesn’t mean I ever stopped trying to improve the process. This is a long game.
I gave President Trump a chance to make us proud, as he promised to do. He disappointed me even more than I expected. But people often disappoint me. I have great expectations for myself, people in leadership positions, for you, and the world. That can sometimes lead me to frustration and resignation because of all the people I have great expectations for, I can only control one.
I can label someone a jerk, misogynists, etc., but what does that accomplish? Is that label 100% accurate? Probably not. We’re all jerks at times. We’ve all said things we shouldn’t have. We’ve all done things we regret. Our relationships beyond those comments and behaviors hinge on the authenticity of our apologies, which is largely based on consistent behaviors over time. Trust is not rebuilt easily, yet grudges typically cause more harm to us than to the people we hold them against.
Here are some things to consider when assessing the people you think are jerks:
- They aren’t jerks all of the time. Many days in my childhood, I considered my abuser my best friend. We played, rode bikes, and laughed together. We shared meals, toys, and more. This is why is was so difficult for me to comprehend the stealing, attempted drownings, and emotional abuse. We want it to be easy to recognize dangerous people, so we can lock them away from everyone else. Thank goodness we don’t rely on single moments to define (most of) us.
- Sometimes, we are the jerks. Remember that nosepicker in your middle school class? The one you called “Digger” and excluded from your circles of friends–often in very cruel ways? You were the bully you now shame at your kids’ schools. We want to believe we are good people, and most of the times we are, but sometimes we overreact and overcompensate to defend our own bad behavior, even if others don’t know we ever participated in it.
- A jerk’s behavior is not an inseparable part of him or her. As a friend and former coach reminds me, if we cut a person open, we are not going to find a jerk part, next to the heart and lungs or even in the DNA. It’s not permanent. We can change our behavior, just like we change our hairstyles or colors, our living environments, or our careers. It might not be easy, but it can usually be done. We think others’ behaviors are immutable traits, yet we argue incessantly for forgiveness of our own errors.
- Many “jerks” will do what they can to please you, as long as you make the process clear, easy, and compatible with their values. As adults, my abuser and I had a loving relationship for many years on terms that worked for our lives at the time. We visited a few times per year and exchanged messages when we were apart. We had a clear, easy process that helped us put the past behind us. It wasn’t until our values came into conflict that I decided to take advice I often give my clients and love from afar.
- When we are jerks (and all of us are sometimes), we probably aren’t consciously choosing the best behaviors under the circumstances. We have likely defaulted to bragging or embellishing to make us seem more of something than we think we are. In some cases, we might put on an aggressive display of our sexual desirability, wealth, intelligence, athleticism, or worthiness. In other cases, we might act in desperation, forgetting we have choices–or pretending we don’t have them because they take more time and effort than we want to give. We will risk civil unrest, jail time, divorce, job loss, or death in a moment that later causes regret we can’t easily admit.
In short, we are jerks when we’ve given up, forgotten, or disconnected from our true power. Power comes not from titles, money, lovers, or possessions. Our power is in our consciousness and the choices we make with it.