The Other 90%

April 14, 2013 in Advice by apleau

So, I am now officially moved to the Bay Area – yay!  I am still temporarily tied to my job in Arizona, so there is only so much I can say about that experience for the time being, however I feel like things are finally getting better. It’s been a rough 6 months with new experiences I would be happy to never encounter again. I’m recovering, and part of that recovery is dusting off the Kitten. That does not quite sound right. Anyhooz, for today, I want to talk about assholes.

I recently witnessed an exchange between two strangers where it was clear one of them made an honest mistake and apologized profusely for it, whereas the other person chose to be an asshole.  It got me thinking: what qualities make up an asshole, and what percentage of the world is made up of them, really?

I conducted a highly scientific study where I hypothesized that the world is probably 20-30% Asshole. Recalling my experience as a waitress, I decided to round that down to 20% – it just seems there should be more because assholes take up a lot more time, space and energy than your average human. Then I thought, “20%; that’s like 1 in 5.  There’s no way there is one asshole to every five people…is there?” I then thought about every place I’ve ever worked. I figure work creates a good cross-section of people; I wouldn’t be friends with assholes, and the average family dynamic is far too complex to determine who is an asshole (plus, I wouldn’t classify anyone in my family is an asshole; mental? Yes. Asshole? Nah ;)).

Upon assessing every former co-worker I’ve ever dealt with, I realized that while there were certain people I certainly didn’t like, most weren’t assholes.  I mentally went through each person I didn’t care for: Slacker. Con artist. Pain in the Ass. Complainer. Rich brat. Psycho. Gossiper. Person Obsessed with Self-Help Groups Who Cannot Be Counted On. Narcissist. Liar. Eggshell-Walking Condescender. To be fair, I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years.  At any rate, it turns out that none of those people could be classified as assholes; there were aspects of each of them I liked and in most cases, they were genuinely decent people. The actual assholes accounted for only 10% of the people I’ve ever worked with.

What was it about this 10% that made me classify them as assholes?  There is a common criteria among all of them:

  • A persistent victimhood where they believe every person around them is angling to attack them
  • An assumption that there is a selfish/hurtful motive behind everything a person says or does
  • A complete disrespect and lack of consideration for others while demanding to be treated like they are King or Queen of the World. This is usually done by belittling, yelling, unnecessary defensiveness and passhole-aggressholery.
  • Anger. Just constant anger over the dumbest, smallest shit.

When you write it all down like this, assholes are a pretty sad lot.  Yet, we give them so much power.  I mentioned earlier about being a waitress.  In my ever-so-brief stint at Friendly’s, I took something from that experience that I still carry with me to this day. No, not the peanut butter fudge ice cream I pilfered when I found out they weren’t paying me my credit card tips – that shit went straight down the piehole three seconds after I walked out the door.

No, I learned that the 10% took up 90% of my time and energy because I only wanted to make them feel satisfied. They were volcanos of anger just waiting to erupt, and I shoved ice cream and attention into their giant, gaping calderas as an offering in the hopes of appeasing them. Silly me. Every time – let me emphasize that – EVERY TIME – it didn’t make a difference. They weren’t looking to enjoy the food I gave them or appreciate my service; they went there looking for problems, free food, and the opportunity to feel superior. This happens all throughout service industries and all throughout life, yet no matter where you go it’s the 10% that get 90% of the attention. It’s the 10% that ruin your day. It’s the 10% that make you throw a phone across the room or take an extra moment in the bathroom to catch your breath. It’s the 10% that make you briefly forget that there are plenty of good, non-asshole humans around you.

In my own experience, I’ve had the most success flicking assholes out of my life by following certain guidelines. When encountering the asshole in your life, consider these tips:

  1. Recognize that an asshole is going to be an asshole no matter what you do, so the first thing you need to realize is their anger is not about you.  Their life is an ongoing flow of rage and negativity and you just happen to be next in a long line of people they are going to rage on.
  2. The best weapons against assholery are patience and kindness. Nothing makes an asshole lose their mind more than another person’s refusal to play their game. I personally believe that at the heart of it all, assholes are assholes because it’s the only way they know how to control their environment and/or feel important. Their power is only what you give them. Be kind, be you, love you, and trust yourself.
  3. There’s a temptation to question yourself after you experienced someone’s rage. Promise yourself that you will take accountability for the mistakes you actually made, but recognize the difference between someone looking for a solution versus someone who wants to just yell for 20 minutes. True story: I once had someone yell at me for 20 minutes over the phone because their health plan gym membership card said “middle name” but it only showed their middle initial. She was rude, sarcastic and of course, pissed. I let her speak, but I remained politely firm that there was nothing that would be done about the situation. After about 10 minutes, I asked, “is there anything else I can help you with today?” She went on ranting for another 10 minutes about how her middle name isn’t “E”, and after she got tired of ranting in circles and not getting a rise out of me, I responded with a pleasant, “well, I thank you for calling; is there anything else I can help you with today?” She finally got off the phone, and for once, I felt perfectly fine after a negative phone call.  It was a transformative moment for me, because it is my tendency to want to please everyone. At that moment I realized some people only want to be displeased, and they want to make you displeased too. Those are the 10%.
  4. Finally, if you are in a situation to do so, just ignore them. As they say on the interwebz, don’t feed the trolls. It sounds like such an elementary school approach to it all, but their behavior is childish.

The biggest challenge for me is when I see examples like the exchange I referenced above. It’s very strange – I am naturally shy and have that whole social anxiety thing going on, but all of that goes out the window when I see an asshole picking on someone. My gut desire is to fucking destroy them. But if I do that, then I’m playing into their game. I’m giving them the attention they crave while letting them control the situation. They win. Instead, take the best of who you are and share it with the people around you – take your compassion, your kindness and your goodwill to the people who will appreciate it as well as the people who haven’t had the opportunity to appreciate it. Randomly pay for a coffee or a toll, say “hello” to people you pass by on the street (people in larger metro areas will look at you suspiciously, but don’t worry about that – just keep at it, I am).

We’re not going to change the world with our kindness, but if we all work to remind each other that there are 9 of us to every 1 asshole, we’ll at least take 90% of our lives back to spend on the things we enjoy and the people we love.  That’s worth it, isn’t it?

Image courtesy of chrisroll/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net