Just some ordinary Wednesday. I’m in my car rolling to get some high quality din-din; a burger from Wendy’s. And then it hit me:
What determines someone to be seen as an asshole or mean is when two people on opposite sides of the sensitivity spectrum collide within a topic.
But maybe I should clarify what I mean.
SENSITIVITY RANGES AND DEFENSE MECHANISMS
I’m sure we can all think of more than once where we unintentionally offended someone, or vice versa. We can all relate to how that feels, that wide range of guilt you could possibly feel.
Lets face it, none of us are perfect. All of us have some sort of insecurities, and the severity of those exact insecurities is what influences our sensitivity, which determines our defense mechanisms, which determines how much of an ass-hat or pussy you’re going to come off as. But the big link here with our perceptions of other people’s behavior comes down to sensitivities.
There isn’t much of a difference between sensitive and insensitive people; they are like two sides of the same coin. Whats different is the defense mechanism those people use to cope with their insecurities. A sensitive person commonly uses compassion and avoidance. An insensitive person commonly uses humor and apathy. The more sever the sensitivity going on with a topic, the more sever the defense mechanism will shine through.
I’ll give you recent true story example. I was in line with someone at a cafe in New Zealand with a bunch of different ready-made food. We were exchanging our different hunger fueled temptations about what to eat when she said “I just want to eat all of these sweets in here”, pointing to 3 separate shelves of chocolate and donuts etc. I followed with another exaggerated comment saying “hey, just as long as you can fit back on the bus.”
My intention was some lame humor about weight gain, and she, somehow, ended up completely horrified. I didn’t call her fat. I didn’t say she needed to watch her weight or any of those serious things. I didn’t overstep common social courtesy and boundaries. I was just following the conversation sharing my humor, and she somehow wound up in disbelief and horror about how rude I was to her.
I was extremely confused by this until I took a closer look: Our sensitivities about weight gain were on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. I’m a 6 foot toned male, and her mildly overweight and not the active type. I am not particularly insecure about gaining weight, but I am concerned about my image and body, like pretty much most everyone. The result you get is a guy who is insensitive about weight and diet, and a woman who was sensitive. Put us together to joke about it and its sort of unavoidable that someone ends up being seen as an asshole.
But lets say we were both insensitive about the topic of weight gain. The way she responded would have been on a completely different wave length. She probably would have retorted with another joke, and we would have been two humans speaking pleasantly.
So, do I feel bad? Well, lets just say I didn’t have a whole lot of control over that one. If it’s so much bullshit that someone shares their humor with you, you probably shouldn’t bring up that you wanna eat 3 shelves worth of brownies then.
What you control is future behavior. Once you know someone is sensitive to something, don’t fucking joke to them about it again. That is what separates assholes from good mistake making humans. I can say I’m not an asshole because I recognize sensitive/insensitive behavior and ease up, or disconnect from that person entirely.
But this is just one subset of asshole behavior. The Asscake Continuum is a whole other box of brownies under the lid. Yeah. You fuck’n heard me right.
ENTITLEMENT AND IDENTITY
In Arron James book Assholes: A theory, He defines and narrows what it means to be an asshole:
“A person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.”
That means the person that keeps pointing fun at your poor diet abilities, when he knows and doesn’t care and even worse gets pleasure out of the fact that it hurts your feelings even if you’ve voiced them. It’s the guy who continues to weave in traffic or abuse the carpool lane or tailgates and honks when you’re driving the speed limit. It’s the coworker that makes fun of the kind of jeans you like to wear over and over again, regardless of the stoic faces and distasteful remarks that take place day after day. I finally had to call human resources on a co-worker because I couldn’t seem to get it through his head over the course of a fucking year of occasional sexual harassment, that he in fact isn’t entitled to treating me the way he does. One thing I can tell you from that experience is don’t hesitate to report shit, regardless of how that person might be affected.
So, that’s assholes. They’re all entitled to enjoying themselves at your expense. They all think they’re more important and valid than the surrounding people consistently, regardless of the complaints or negative reactions. And the shittiest part is that a fair majority of assholes deny that they see themselves that way. They feel entitled, and therefore blind to their own lack thereof in reality. It’s an adverse condition that spirals and spreads and has no way of going away unless one accumulates enough punishment and self-awareness to see they are wrong. Which is why I think American culture has been accidentally engineered to shit out more and more. We are more entitled by and large than any other country in the world, and a flourishing population of dickheads that usually get away with it is the result.
So yeah, siiick…
THE FIVE LEVELS OF ASSHOLES
Just for fun, I made levels to being an asshole. Most of us have made mistakes in the first two levels, and most assholes also reside in the first two levels. The higher the level, the more perpetuated hate and drama and belated relief results for victims, and also, as an asshole climbs the ranks, the more likely they are to remain there.
Level One (The Boorish): One who dismisses common social cues and willfully insensitive to normal boundaries of courtesy and respect.
Level Two (The Smug): Comfortable in the fact that they perceive others as inferior; expects them to treat him as their better. Commonly doesn’t own up to mistakes.
Level Three (The Bossy): rarely has explanations or remorse for their actions; does not apologize. Believes they may bark orders when a polite request will do. Consistently hides behind an ether of power and rank to hold others accountable and have high expectations, regardless of their own.
Level Four (Royal Dick Head): A transgressor. Has an institutional entitlement to treat others as they please. Always selects the harshest behavior they believe they can get away with. Over estimates their sovereignty.
Level Five (Self-Aggrandizing Fuckwit): Has little moral capacity and goes beyond what is in his rights. Spreads blame. Justifies wrongdoing. Manipulates others. Intentionally hurts others on an economic level or defiles their image. Absurdly egotistical.
THOUGHTS AND STRATEGIES
Now we know what an asshole is and what an asshole is not. So how do we deal with them? How can we effectively limit how much they affect us?
Theres a few different ways. It usually escalates in this order.
Avoid and disregard them entirely. I am personally an advocate of this. The only problem with this is that it doesn’t solve much about their behavior and your sensitivity. Nothing directly changes, but you don’t have to deal with it much. I think this works well for bad drivers and the general public, but not so much when it comes to friends, family, and coworkers.
Tolerate them. This one gets a little fishy for a lot of reasons. On one hand you get out of things a little more peacefully. You just appease them, tell them they’re right, and hopefully things end quicker. but on the other hand you’re signaling to the asshole that their behavior is acceptable. That they can get away with it on you. This is going to make you a more frequent victim. So tolerance should be used sparsely and with people who you most likely won’t have to deal with for long. A temporary boss. A shitty customer.
Resist them. Some just make distasteful remarks and some emotionally explode. I’ve done both, and I think the best option is making them aware that you aren’t fond of their behavior, and disregarding them if possible. This is also a good way of figuring out what their intention was. Assholes are immune to complaints anyway, right? You’ll find out. This is better for people you have little interpersonal relation with or at least a frequent exposure too.
But the best way to bring down the clash of sensitivities is overall self-awareness of your sensitivity and that of others. This is going to be different for different topics. The best place to start would be to just simply know what your insecurities are and train yourself not to be offended if someone steps into that realm unintentionally. I do this all the time with new people I meet that tell me how young I look. I hear it all the time, and it gripes me. I hate how pretty much everyone accepts me for some young kid that doesn’t know anything, when I’m actually 24 and quite competent. It makes me act different. It takes me off the task at hand. So I constantly remind myself that it’s just a sensitivity of mine and people aren’t meaning harm by it most the time. Its okay.
Then there’s the other end. What are you most insensitive about? I’m super insensitive about money, because I’ve always had the things I needed and wanted. I’ve never been out of work. I’m good at managing my personal finances. But that’s also because I fear not having it. I hate debt. I cringe if my savings account drops bellow 6k. But that’s not the way it is for most people, most people suck at money. They live paycheck to paycheck, beyond their means. So when I talk to people about jobs and money, I usually come off cocky. I’m comfortable with talking about hourly rates and investments and whatever else. So with most people, particularly younger people, I try to avoid any personal references about money until I know they are also insensitive.
Knowing what you’re insensitive about is really only helpful if you have a lot of people give you negative feedback or reactions. It helps you figure out if you’re an asshole. But if you’re routinely skeptical at all and have fairly good intentions, you most likely aren’t, so I would focus on your sensitivities and not letting them get to you so much unless your insensitivities are causing you a bunch of drama and social issues.
Being aware of these things helps you to become a more equalized and confident person. If anything, you might even have a little more mercy on everyone else. That most everyone has their levels of sensitivity not because of ways they’re superior or little bitches, but because of ways they’ve suffered and the defense mechanisms they used to cope and grow with that suffering, just like you have. So cut em’ a break.
EXPERIENCE WITH ENTITLEMENT
And you might be wondering, gee, what makes this guy think he can tell me I’m being too sensitive or insensitive?
Because I have been both of them. Yeah, the sensitive one and the asshole. I had my reasons, excuses, justifications, all of it. And it took bad friendships, severed relationships and quiet a bit of painful introspection to figure it all out. I found ways I was right and wrong, and most of it had to do with the way I treated other people and their sensitivities, including my own.
But I’m also the byproduct of an industry that breeds and shits them out like a fucking assembly line: The construction industry. I began at 18, and in certain ways it was extremely healthy and sparked a lot of growth in me. But in other ways it wasn’t. I picked up on a lot of poor ways of talking to people and dealing with emotions. And I hate to say it, but that’s sort of the blue-collar way. Its low class for a reason: Half of the people in my industry are about as smart as a lobotomized rock, even some guys in prestigious positions. When we read about fair treatment policies, guys laugh and mock it. Its fucking unreal. They’re basically insensitive to everything. So yeah, 5 years took its toll on me as a young man. If it weren’t for a very, very small handful of men I revere and look up to, well, lets just say things would have turned out differently for me.
So, well, if you do happen to be an asshole, hopefully you’re seeing ways you can change up your game. Hopefully you realize that much like how you feel entitled to disregard other people’s sensitivity, they also feel entitled to leave you in the fire or dust when the opportunity is presented.
So quit being a dick, and have a great day.