How Jerks Happen

Posted by jlubans on January 18, 2019

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While working on my Fulbright sponsored class, Literature and Leadership, I came across an intriguing essay,
The Dark Triad and the Evolution of Jerks
The author, a psychology professor, wonders how jerks thrive.
Most of us, perhaps up to 90%, try to live our lives according to the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. When attacked, we are cautioned to “turn the other cheek”.
So, how do we get jerks, those habitués of the Dark Triad?
The class will make use of my book, Fables for Leaders. As fables go, many are stories about jerks and offer examples and advice.
For example, there’s the fable of "The Travelers and the Purse"
in which one of the two travelers claims full ownership of money the two find on the road, (my good fortune, not our good fortune). When threatened by an approaching posse, the jerk reneges on his claim of exclusive ownership.
And there’s, “A Hedge-hog and a Snake”, about an unwanted guest who ousts the hospitable Hedge-hog from his nest.
Even better, there's Aesop and the Stone in which an injured Aesop tricks the perp into a much graver folly, likely leading to his death.
And, finally, there’s
The Weeping Man and the Birds” about how a man who “weeps” crocodile tears while slaughtering birds for the cooking pot.
Here’s what’s in the Dark Triad: “Narcissism (an excessive focus on oneself), Machiavellianism (manipulating others for one’s own gain), and psychopathy (an overall disregard for others).”
Looking for more information about the dark triad, I discovered that there are tests you can take to find out if you are one of them. Please note that I question the credibility of these tests. Who –when kindness and cooperation are what set most humans apart from other living creatures - would agree with any of these following beliefs/behaviors?
It's true that I can be mean to others.
I know that I am special because everyone keeps telling me so.
Most people can be manipulated.
Hurting people would be exciting.
I enjoy having sex with people I hardly know.
Payback needs to be quick and nasty (see above, "Aesop and the Stone").
I like to get revenge on authorities.
I’ll say anything to get what I want.
Make sure your plans benefit you not others.

If you strongly concur with these statements, then you are probably reading this in a jail cell or lolling in the lap of luxury as the jefe of a drug gang.
Or, if you have more than an occasional lapse or two (“To err is human”, after all), and routinely apply these behaviors to get ahead at work, you are more than likely One Big Fat Jerk (OBFJ) a new type for the Myers Briggs Type Indicator!
So, if most of us value kindness and cooperation, how does the dark side thrive?
Well, according to research, unkind people adapt and use trickery to make gains and to survive against the kind folks they encounter and abuse.
Is it nature or nurture one might ask? Do big jerks beget little jerks?
Some of the dark behavior is what it takes to survive under bad conditions. And one might ask realistically, if it is permissible to fight a jerk with jerk behaviors? That question should make for some interesting class discussion about effective leadership and followership.

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My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

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