Analytical 4: Jerks

12 August, 2016


Beyond the ad-hominem nature of dismissing another persons ideas because you think they’re a jerk, what does this behaviour tell us about ourselves, and who’s the actual jerk?

Transcript available
[MUSIC PLAYING] Everything can be improved, iterated, and refined. And if you don't think that that's true, maybe you haven't analyzed it enough. Calculated choices, carefully considered, absolutely analytical. Analytical is part of the Engineered Network. To support our shows, including this one, head over to our Patreon page for lots of other great shows. Visit today. I want to talk about jerks. (laughs) That's gonna sound strange. Not so long ago, I was talking with a younger engineer and he said very dismissively to me, "Such and such is a jerk." That's air quotes, you can't see that. Trust me, I'm air quoting it. And suggested to me, therefore, that their idea was flawed. Now, okay, apart from all the obvious things that's wrong with that statement, it got me thinking about the problem with absolutism and statements like that. I mean, technically, it wasn't purely an ad hominem attack. I mean, it was in a lot of ways, it has a lot of strong resemblances to an ad hominem attack, which, you know, if you're not sure, an ad hominem attack is the idea that you attack the person rather than the person's idea. You can call them a name if you like. And I'm attacking the person, not the idea, that's the whole basis of an ad hominem attack, sure, but it's more the inevitable flagging of all the ideas from that person, from that moment in time forward, from the assessment that they are a jerk for all time forward, that that is my issue. And that's what I want to talk about. I want to talk about jerks. As odd as that sounds. So, let's think about that. The idea that no one can change. And once a person acts like a jerk in one aspect, in one way, in one environment, in one situation, that they are forever labelled that way and they're just a jerk. No, John's a jerk. Done with him. It's over. Not listening to him anymore. Done. Bye-bye. That kind of single-mindedness, that completely writing them off, like, I'm done with them, they're a jerk. I've seen it time and time again. Sometimes I'd like to think when I was younger, maybe I did that occasionally. I've reassessed that now, I can tell you. But anyway, the idea is that, well, the assumption that that implicit assumption that that makes is that we're all one dimensional devices, you know, that we don't learn, that we can't change and we don't evolve over time. And I think that is such a ridiculous notion when you think about it in that context, that any reasonable person you might choose to speak to and present that argument would just shake their head and say that you're crazy. I mean, if you look at yourself in the mirror, honestly, ask yourself the question, you say, am I the same person that I was yesterday? Yeah, maybe. Or about last week? Well, maybe about last month, last year I mean, are there events, situations and circumstances that have forced me to re-evaluate who I am and what I think about the world and the way I interact with it? Because I believe that everybody learns, grows, changes and evolves. I don't actually think it's possible to stagnate Even if you actively try to stagnate, I don't think you can because in the actual, the act of attempting to stagnate as a conscious choice is in and of itself an act of evolutionary behavioral change relative to the moment prior to the intent not to change So you can't help it, your decision to not change is an essentially a change So if we accept that we ourselves grow and evolve In and of ourselves, we accept that this is inevitable. Then how can we dismiss that characteristic in anyone else? So if we accept that that's true, let's do the obvious thing and turn it around. I once heard someone say that there isn't a person alive who wasn't young enough once to make a mistake. And I realize that statement is a double negative in it, but the idea is that, well, if you were young once, you made a mistake once. Okay, we learn from our mistakes. Well, I certainly hope we learn from our mistakes, not everyone seems to, but you know, and sometimes maybe I haven't, but I try to learn from my mistakes. And I think that that works for mistakes, mistaken behaviors as well, in this particular case being a jerk, quote unquote, offending people. If your goal is to not offend or hurt others, then you can recognize when you're doing that, either through some form of self-reflection. I don't necessarily mean meditation, you know, just thinking about your behaviour. Sometimes if you're really lucky, someone will just come out and tell you, you know what, you've been a jerk. And that takes guts, you know, that takes real guts to do that, to walk up to someone that you like, that you respect. It's actually harder the more you like someone. It's easy if it's someone you don't like, you know, or you don't know them that well. So, stop being a jerk, you'll be in a jerk. But someone that you respect, someone that you like, someone who's your friend even, it's incredibly hard, it gets incrementally harder, the better you know them, to tell them that they're being a jerk. Hopefully, you reach a level of, you know, familiarity with each other that you know, that the comment is made in good, in positive spirit. That is to say, you're a jerk, I still love you, you're awesome. But by the way, what you just did, you'll be in a jerk. And maybe there's some kind of a barrier there, like as you approach a level of closeness in a relationship, maybe it reaches that point where you come over a threshold, where it does actually become easier. So maybe there is something in there. But irrespective then, once you have that recognition, you recognise that you've been a jerk, you then have a choice. Action, stimulus, response, you can choose to improve or you can choose not to improve. I suppose if you choose to continue to be a jerk, maybe the title is deserved after all. Maybe you are just a jerk because you're choosing to continue to be one, even though the fact you've had it pointed out to you, or you've discovered through self-reflection or meditation or using some yoga mat, whatever you like, doesn't matter. You know, you've figured out, oh, yeah, I can't be a jerk. Well, you know, maybe. But that's not what I observe in people, because we like to tell ourselves that story. You know, we like to think that we're good and in our core being that we're a good person. I wonder how many people go around the world thinking, you know, I'm a horrible person. I'm horrible. I mean, I suppose if you're depressed, you might think that. But, you know, on balance, on balance, most people like to think that they're a good person. They tell themselves, you know, I'm a good person. I'm a good I'm a good I'm a good guy. I'm a good girl. You know, I'm I'm nice to people. But suddenly, what do we do if we get feedback from other people, other people that's not reflecting that, that we're not a good person, that we've in fact been a jerk? Again, with the air quotes you can't see. Then typically, we'll course correct and we'll adjust our behavior. So, the problem is, still looking at this the other way around, of course, from the outside looking in at us, many months ago, we were being a jerk to this other person. Now, if they label us a jerk forevermore, and yet now we've learnt the error of our ways, how are they going to know that? They can't read my mind. How do they know that I've learnt that I was a jerk? I mean, I suppose the responsible thing to do would be to go and say, you know, you remember that thing a few months ago where I was a jerk? Yeah, I was being a jerk. Sorry about that. Didn't mean to be a jerk. Jeez, I was jerky that day. Such a jerky jerk. But I'm not anymore. I'm not anymore. Totally not. like totally not anymore. I'm like the most awesome now and all that stuff. You know, I mean, it's hard to bring that up, isn't it? I mean, do you really want to bring that up to somebody? It's like dredging up. Oh man, you still going on about that? You still obsessing about that thing that happened three months ago? Really? That's all you're thinking about really? Because I've gotten that one, but you know, it's okay. Maybe that is the right thing to do. I mean, I've been a jerk to people and I'm pretty damn sure that you've been a jerk to people as well, dear listener, at one time or another, in varying degrees. And I keep telling myself, you know, I've learned from my mistakes. And I continue to learn every single day. Not a day goes by that I don't learn something, which is kind of cool, actually. So, I suppose, what's the moral of the story? And I'm not sure everything has to have a moral, but I like the idea that if you think about it enough, analyze it enough, is something you can take away from it. So, if you think that it's okay to label somebody, and I think label is a great way of thinking about it, it's like a- It's an extreme oversimplification. You're taking a person who's a very complicated beast, and I don't mean that in the beastie kind of way, you know, I mean, like a very complicated individual. We're all multifaceted, you know, We wake up in the morning, we're tired, you know, we have different reactions all day long. Getting to the core of somebody can take decades of knowing them. And even then it's a moving target because we're growing and evolving at the same time. So are they, so are we. Our perceptions of them change just as much as they change. Everything's a moving set of goalposts. So any time you think it's safe to label somebody and write them off, whether it's writing them off as a jerk or any other behaviour or stereotype that you might like to choose, anything at all, maybe. Just maybe you should consider the idea that giving someone a second chance is actually based in some pretty concrete logic. If you're enjoying Analytical and you want to support the show, you can, like one of our backers, Chris Stone. He and many others are patrons of the show via Patreon, and you can find it at, one word and if you'd like to contribute something, anything at all, it's all very much appreciated. Accept nothing, question everything and today and now is always a good time to analyze something. I'm John Chidjie, thank you so much for listening. [MUSIC PLAYING]
Duration 11 minutes and 32 seconds Direct Download

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John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.