Fifty Shades of Jerkiness

Posted by jlubans on October 11, 2016

Caption: Where one goes for rehab.

Sometime ago, the Media Lab at MIT worked on something called the Jerk-O-Meter app. No, it was not something to alert a jerk for talking too loudly on his cell phone, or to screech at someone’s rudeness in taking a phone call in the middle of a tête-à-tête.
No, too bad, nothing like that. Rather the J-O-M was to listen in on your yakking with someone and to signal whether you (and eventually the person at the other end) were paying attention to the conversation. The app would message you: "Stop being a jerk!" or "Wow, you're a smooth talker!" depending on your degree of jerkitude.
Alas, the J-O-M never lifted off. However, some progress is been made in understanding jerkiness, jerkitude, or how jerks come into being.
This is not a new topic for me:
Of Jerks, Bozos, Dorks, Fatheads, Nincompoops, Dunderheads, Twerps, Bamboozlers, Fakers, Hornswogglers, et al.”
Genius and/or "Competent Jerk"?
Gender in the Workplace: Getting to Effective Teamwork
Weird at Work.
Just revisiting the topic populates my mind with instances of jerk behavior. Indeed, under some circumstances, I’m the jerk.
But, usually it is other people’s jerkiness that I sputter about.
I can rattle off example after example, as can the reader:
- My directional question – in English - being dismissed in rapid incomprehensible Italian at the Milan train station’s Information kiosk.
- The Dean of a University office lambasting me on his speakerphone in front of his students.
- To show that widespread jerkiness can be ameliorated, there’s the NY subway stationmaster colorfully cursing me, a clueless out-of-towner, for asking about the subway fare. Since NYC’s near bankruptcy, the subway staff almost always respond in helpful and courteous ways and never with a muttered, “Go to hell!”
Whence jerkitude? What motivates, inspires the jerks among us? One’s jerk may be a hero to another. Some celebrate the political bureaucrat who undermines an opposing faction's effort.
And, the jerk who “Destroys People’s Selfie Sticks with a Branch Cutter in NYC” (if not a phony story) might be viewed as a quixotic hero by many.
One researcher is exploring the topic, getting to the source of what is defined, vulgarly, by the Oxford Dictionaries’ as a “dickhead”. In other words, “a stupid, irritating, or ridiculous person, particularly a man.” Hmm, why are jerks often men?
In two articles, the researcher Eric Schwitzgebel guides us to a better understanding of jerkiness. His articles explore the finer points:
A theory of jerks: Are you surrounded by fools? Are you the only reasonable person around? Then maybe you’re the one with the jerkitude.”
And, “How to Tell If You’re a Jerk: If you think everyone around you is terrible, the joke may be on you.”
Dr. Schwitzgebel suggests there is a jerkiness continuum; the extreme jerk at one end and the sweetheart at the other. Where are you on the continuum?
His definition: “To be a jerk is to be ignorant in a certain way—ignorant of the value of others, ignorant of the merit of their ideas and plans, dismissive of their desires and beliefs, unforgiving of their perceived inferiority."
As for the sweetheart: “… habitually alert to the needs and interests of others, solicitous of others’ thoughts and preferences, liable in cases of conflict to suspect that the fault might lie with them rather than with the other party.”
It comes down to this, your regard for others. “It is your basic moral comportment toward the people around you.” The jerk has zero or low regard and the sweetheart has 95% or more. Perhaps it’s something to do with a deficiency in EQ, emotional intelligence? A certified jerk may be unwilling or even unable to see his/her jerkiness. “What? Me a jerk? Never!”
So, how do you, a wise leader, deal with jerkitude? More on that later. How I dealt or did not deal with jerks in the workplace.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

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