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Mueller: Don’t be a jerk and learning to ignore them

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By Bob Mueller

How many times in any given day do you meet a jerk? Some people seem to go out of their way to be difficult, demanding, conflict-oriented, hostile or even obnoxious. How many seem to be such poor listeners that you wonder if you’re being heard at all? Some individuals even get a thrill out of threatening people with frivolous lawsuits.

I believe that in order to live a truly joyful and fulfilling life, we must learn to respond to these jerks in a whole new way. I’m afraid if we wait for the most difficult segment of society to change their ways, we’re in for a very long wait.

Rather than feeling frustrated, disappointed, hopeless and stressed-out simply because there are jerks in our world, we can instead learn to look the other way – to ignore them. The key lies in stepping back and seeing how much attention a jerk tends to demand, and how that attention pulls you away from everything else that is going on – all the good, ethical stuff. It’s actually quite amazing!

We each deal with dozens, maybe even hundreds of people each day. At least 95 percent of them are relatively polite, kind and competent. Most folks don’t shove you, nor do they cut in front of you. Neither do most people interrupt you or flip you off. On the expressway, there are tens of thousands of drivers. There are a few aggressive bad apples, but the vast majority is just fine.

I’ve asked many audiences the following question: If you have thirty things to do in a day and twenty-nine of them go well – which one do you talk about over dinner? Most people admit they will talk about the one thing that went wrong. A similar question can be asked about people. If you deal with thirty people, and twenty-nine of them are normal, well-intended, relatively nice people, but one of them is a real jerk - which one is the subject of conversation?

Because jerks are by definition obnoxious, they will tend to steal your attention. They will pull you away from and encourage you to lose sight of everyone else, especially the 95 percent of people who are nice, thoughtful, competent and fair.

Don’t give jerks the time of day. Don’t give them your valuable attention, your time, or even a second thought. Don’t give away your power to them. Jerks thrive and feed on attention. So when you see jerks being themselves, instead of feeding them with your attention, instead simply brush them off as one more jerk who is the exception, rather than the rule.

This really works. Each time you see a jerk, rather than turning it into a big deal, thereby exacerbating the irritation you feel, it will become instead a reminder that most people aren’t, in fact, jerks. What a great way to turn a negative into a positive!

The result will be that, instead of being bummed out or angry when you see people beings jerks, you’ll actually be reminded, instead, of how normal, kind and together most people really are. The jerk will be the source of comparison – nothing more, nothing less.

Who would have thought that a jerk could actually be a good thing – a reminder that most people aren’t like this at all? So, even when someone is obnoxious, even if it seems like it’s on purpose, don’t let it bug you. Don’t let the jerks get you down!

I think you’ll find that the slightest shift in perspective will result in a tremendous amount of inner peace. By keeping small things small, and saving your reactions for the truly bigger things, you’ll spend less time being upset and more time enjoying life.

Bob Mueller is the senior director of mission and stewardship at Hosparus. The views in this column are those of the writer.