Saturday, February 23, 2013

How to Deal with a Jackass

Here’s some news you can really use. Someone has done a study that shows the best way to deal with a jackass. For the most part you know a jackass when you see one, but a complete jackass is someone who has no manners, no couth and no respect. He is likely to be rude, obnoxious and disrespectful, and it is normally painful and demoralizing to have to deal with him.

A jackass might be trying to bring you down; he might be bringing you down despite himself. Either way, it is not so easy to know how to deal with him without looking or sounding like a jackass yourself.

Of course, some jackasses are making fools of themselves; others are trying to make a fool out of you. The study does not seem to distinguish, but in either case you are not going to suffer rudeness gladly… unless you can succeed in making a laughing stock of the person who is insulting you.

In a world that is presumably overflowing with the milk of human empathy, and where the old manners have gone out of style, people seem to believe that engaging in a conversation is like performing on a stage.

People become jackasses by trying to entertain you. They might even by trying to make you their foil, the better to entertain a third person at your expense.

Under normal circumstances you do not waste your time trying to deal with jackasses. If you have reached the age of adult reason you know that trying to engage with a jackass is a losing game.

You do not want to end up on the same level as the jackass. And if he is incapable of meeting you on your level you will have to lower yourself to meet him on his. 

If you needed confirmation, researchers from Baruch College in New York have run a test that has showed that it is better for you to ignore a jackass than to  engage with him.

The Vancouver Sun reports on the findings:

Turns out, when somebody is so obnoxious that it's exhausting just to talk to them, cutting conversational ties is actually a positive mental health strategy - one that allows people to save their cognitive capital for more fruitful activities. Say, watching paint dry.

"It's depleting to force yourself to have difficult conversations when all you want to do is ignore the person," said lead author Kristin Sommer, associate professor of psychology at Baruch College, City University of New York. "Ostracism can serve the regulatory goal of allowing people to conserve resources."

The research notes correctly that learning to walk away from jackasses is: “a positive mental health strategy.” It belongs in the category of choosing your friends wisely and well. But, it is important to underscore that if you surround yourself with jackasses then either your reputation will suffer for being associated with them or else you will be accepting their rudeness as something you deserve.

The research has also shown that the contrary is true. If you are approached by someone who is affable and congenial, you do best to engage with the person. Conversing and connecting with other humans is a natural instinct. Suppress it and you will hurt yourself; cultivate it and you will do well by yourself. 

In brief, you will damage your psyche by trying to engage with a jackass and you will damage your psyche by failing to engage with someone who is congenial.

Of course, life is rarely as clear cut as a laboratory experiment. Let’s say you are a political candidate and your opponent starts running ads that diminish, demean and slander your character? Should you react the way you would if you were having a conversation with a jackass?

In truth, you should not. Woe be unto the political candidate who mistakes a campaign for a conversation.

Everyone agrees that Mitt Romney made a fatal error when he allowed the Obama campaign’s attacks on him go unanswered. He chose to ignore the attacks on the grounds, apparently, that he was above the fray.

But then, what does the public conclude when it sees someone who is in a competitive arena declaring that he is so far above it that he does not need to compete?

He is going to come across as arrogant and condescending… not to his opponent, but to the public whose votes he is seeking. And he will lose. Imagine a football team deciding not to fight back because, as an American president, it is "too proud to fight." Doesn't that sound like pure arrogance?

Besides, if you choose to ignore a public attack on your character, people are going to assume that the charges are true.


Anonymous said...

Maybe we know why many liberals are so defensive online - not because they're wrong, because they need peace of mind from the jackasses who don't know when to quit rubbing salt into every open wound?
"The new research found that instead of engaging in civil discourse or debate, fully 16% of liberals admitted to blocking, unfriending or overtly hiding someone on a social networking site because that person expressed views they disagreed with. That's double the percentage of conservatives and more than twice the percentage of political moderates who behaved like that."

Sam L. said...

No, Anon, they are the jackasses who can't stand being called on it And they are wrong.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Sam, just trying to get under your skin! Look in the mirror sometime.

As Stuart said "Of course, some jackasses are making fools of themselves; others are trying to make a fool out of you."

Whenever someone is categorically wrong because of a label assigned to them (like liberal), you can be sure there's a jackass in denial doing the judging.

But more seriously, I agree there's a danger in shutting down communication based on judging someone else's means or motives.

I remember a comedian who said everyone is either an asshole or a creep, and at least you know where you stand with an asshole.

Is it better to have rivals or enemies you respect, who will challenge you, or fairweather friends or fans who will disappear the moment you need them to stand up for you?

It might be the "jackass" who made your life miserable is the one who stands up for you later, maybe even when you're not around. You never know who to trust, or where communication leads.

Dennis said...

Back a number of years, long after I had stopped being a liberal because of what it had become, there was a person, who I later considered a friend, that he and I used to argue about almost every conceivable issue. We knew each other's "red flags" and were not above playing them in order to make our points.
I suspect that some around us considered us jackasses, especially since it did seem that we were going to come to blows. But we always found an amicable way to end our various little discussions.
We both found that, in many ways, we wanted the same outcomes, but through different means. We both wrote all kinds of letters to the editors in various newspapers, but I think it did bother him that mine appeared more frequently.
He died a few years ago and I really miss him. Intimating that one is a stupid person I believe is how we absolve ourselves from having well reasoned argumentation. One ignores other's opinions at their peril. Sadly we need more verbal confrontation and less name calling.

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Isaac Gesser said...

Disagreement in political discourse is normal. Saying the other point of view is "from the jackasses who don't know when to quit rubbing salt into every open wound" shows in itself the stubborn nature of the one who says it. Not being political here. Just an observation.