I wouldn’t call myself a jerk per se, but there are absolutely times in my life I have been more severe than necessary. Each time I am less than kind, my integrity pays the price. I can be analytical without being excessively critical. I can be present and firm in my boundaries. I can also be expressive about them while remaining kind. Yet, this can be easy to forget. Most of the contrary behavior was learned. This doesn’t negate a need for accountability. In fact, it emphasizes the need for repatterning. So, what makes a jackass?
I don’t totally know. Very few people are inherently bad, though many are distorted and/or misinformed. It is very easy to behave like a jackass. All it takes is a dash of excessive ego, an unwillingness to confront one’s self, and some conditioning. Jackassery is normalized, particularly in individualistic cultures.
Every now and then, as we would say in Trinidad, one “plays the jackass.” It is indeed a performance. It’s something you opt into. Because when we pause, the pathway out of jackassery is usually right there.
How did I become less of a jackass? I opened my eyes to the pathway because I no longer liked the alternative. When you play the jackass, you hurt others, and, ultimately, you hurt yourself. Severely.
Jackassery is normalized and entrenched through our cultural unwillingness to communicate, integrate new ways of being, and acknowledge our interdependent natures. It’s only safe for you to play the jackass longterm when you believe that you can either go life alone or there are people who won’t care if you’re a jackass. (They’ll love, or at least tolerate, you anyway.)
I am behavior-focused, and I can tell you some of my behaviors. When I play the jackass (it happens on occasion), I’ve usually retreated into thought patterns of being “at effect.” Something was done to me, someone is “making” me feel something, somewhere is keeping me stagnant, etc. There is a real sense of being “put upon” when jackassery is the response to conflict. When I play the jackass, I cease to communicate effectively - I issue edicts in silence. I don’t tell someone I am upset, I just silently distance myself and sometimes stew. This is not healthy or fair to anyone involved. It is deeply unfair to whoever doesn’t know they’re in conflict.
None of the extant close connections in my life are by accident. They are each of value to me, so jackassery is unacceptable. In conflict, I let people know where I am so they can respond with full knowledge of the landscape they’re in with me. If they cannot respond to my clear expression of a boundary, that is their right and it is my right to move forward accordingly. They have given me their perspective of the landscape, and I must respect it.
This has become normalized for me, but at first, it took a lot of shame, pain, and a lot of bravery. Avoidance can be appealing, but it never yields the best fruit: only more opportunities for jackassery.
Are you playing the jackass? Here are some questions I reflected on to interrupt jackassery in my life:
What is effective communication? Has that ever been modeled for me?
Where am I being overly severe and isolating myself in lieu of respectfully communicating my needs?
Where am I being avoidant? What is that avoidance yielding?
How do I routinely dictate my boundaries and respect the boundaries of others?
Is this conflict a proxy war? Does this hurt go deeper?
Can I release shame around old behaviors? Is there a new understanding of these behaviors available to me?
Am I prepared to be different in this context? Is there something that needs clearing before I can do so?
If this felt like an attack, it may be time to Reset. I am opening the books to new clients here.