Reacting to a Jerk

At dinner last night with friends, the discussion turned to disease and personal responsibility; specifically, when it is just an excuse that you are <fill in the blank> because really you’re just a jerk. One friend was quite upset that she is being demonized for having no tolerance for people who choose alcohol over their family.

We talked about how people are getting increasingly rude, and we’re choosing to keep our distance from others socially, because we’re tired of the rudeness. It used to be that we were friends with our neighbors, almost because we had to be. They were our social network. Now we’re friends with people all over the world, but we don’t see them face to face.

The two ideas are connected.

Because I know that my social skills are only moderate; I have to *work* to interact in ways that approach normal.  I am far more comfortable dealing with people at a distance, online, using my excellent writing skills to compensate for more barely adequate verbal skills. I’m not a misanthrope; I’m just socially low in skills.

So for me it’s a matrix of interactions and a fairly complicated decision tree: who is this person, in relation to me, how often do interact with them, will I see them again, how rude are they being, is this an opportunity to provide a corrective lesson . . .  Because we don’t know the other person’s illness or social skill set, we don’t know if they are in therapy or having a bad day, if they are naturally grumpy, or come from a culture that rewards behavior that others call rude. There are so many reasons why someone might be rude to you . . . how can we respond appropriately?

I think we can only do what we always can only do: choose our response. By this I mean that we can consciously decide what our own reaction will, or won’t be. It’s the only true control we can exert in the moment (and this comes from someone who does believe I – and you — can change the universe) and so it becomes an important task for us. It is a fundamental part of personal responsibility, in fact.

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