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How to Tell If Someone (Or Yourself) Is A Jerk

The greatest moral question is not how to be a saint, but how not to be a jerk.

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  1. Handicapped: Poor guy, he’s scared, incapable of imagining that he’s wrong, or otherwise helpless to be more receptive. We should be more compassionate and cut him some slack.
  2. Indulgent: She could be more receptive but isn’t because she’s lazy or just likes believing she’s right even when she isn’t. We should be more assertive and not cut her any slack.
  3. Just Different: He need not be more receptive. His views are valid, just different from ours. We should be more tolerant and respectful of our cultural differences.

13. Jerks make it hard to know what motivates them: They play shell games shifting between three different ways of scolding people for challenging them:

  1. I can’t be receptive. Show some pity. This is no time to challenge me. It’s cruel of you to try to get me to listen to you.
  2. I am being receptive. Why can’t you see that I’m listening? Obviously you’re just  prejudiced against me.
  3. I shouldn’t be receptive. Show some tolerance for our different values.

14. Jerks have an answer for everything and it’s never self-inquiry:No matter how you try to challenge a jerk, you can’t get her to visit the possibility that she’s wrong. She has a high horse last word trump card argument why she’s right, why the problem is in you, why you’re unkind, discouraging, mean, intolerant or blind to question her assumptions. The arguments can be entirely inconsistent, a shell-game of reasons why you’re wrong. But they will be entirely consistent in that they always deflect all challenges.

15. As for leaving them alone, do when you can, but not when you can’t: Live and let live, but not when how jerks live imposes real costs on others. Sidestep jerks altogether when you can, but sometimes you have to fight them. And if you do fight them, be prepared to be called a jerk. More, be prepared to consider seriously that you are the jerk. No one is jerk-proof — not you; not me.

Jeremy E. Sherman, a contributor to Psychology Today, is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision-making. 

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