Sam Holstein

If You’re A Jerk, This Is For You

Nobody wants to be a jerk.

Nobody wants to be that person known for their cutting remarks, for their caustic worldview, and for their all-around bitchiness. The people who are those people, the jerks among us, don’t wake up in the morning and think “gee whiz, I am so looking forward to being a jerk today.” They didn’t lay in their beds as children at night, thinking about what it would be like to grow up and be a jerk one day.

Sometimes we use a less polite word for these people, a word spelled like a******

No. Jerks are created, created by a particular type of circumstance: a lack of meaningful connection.

There is so much you can do for yourself. You can lose weight and learn languages and create great art and contribute so many amazing things to humanity.

You can’t, however, go make someone form a meaningful connection with you. Meaningful connection is not something you can just go get for yourself because it requires a willing other. More than that, it requires someone who is willing for its own sake, someone who is doing this purely for the satisfaction. (Consider therapists. Most people consider their connection with their therapist vital and significant, but we don’t pretend that if we stop paying our therapist, they’ll continue as if nothing’s changed, which affects our perception of this relationship).

Forming meaningful connections with others is like falling in love; you can put yourself in the right circumstances to encounter it, but you can’t make it happen. It is falling in love, simply a non-romantic kind. You can put yourself in the right situations; you can open up; you can make yourself vulnerable to others; but you can’t make them do the same for you. Either they will, or they won’t. You can try to be smart and only open up to the right people, but the only real way to learn about meaningful connection is to have a meaningful connection, trapping people who don’t know the first thing about meaningful connection in a perpetual state of confusion.

It gets worse. Like beat dogs, we learn from our past. The hands that feed are also the hands that strike, and if too many hands strike too many times, we learn that’s all hands are good for and we stop trying to get food from them. They learn that hands only bring pain, and the appropriate reaction to an outstretched hand is to growl and bark. We call these kinds of humans misanthropes, or — more commonly — jerks.

Perhaps you’re unwilling to think of jerks you know in this sympathetic light. That’s all right. The holistic health coaches are right, and we need to be willing to cut toxic people out of our lives. Think about this, then, from the point of view of fictional jerks — specifically, the fictional jerks Greg House and Rick Sanchez.

Greg House was the main character of medical drama House, M.D. more than several years ago, and Rick Sanchez is one of two main characters of the hit show Rick and Morty. They’re both jerks, to the point where other characters in their respective shows wonder why anyone even spends time around them. They also play a major role in creating their own misery. Yet we, the viewers, see them as sympathetic. We can clearly see the people they are on the inside, deeply emotional men trapped in a defensive self-reinforcing cycle. (This is what makes them sympathetic; characters who are just jerks tend not to be well-received). This is just a personal theory, but I think a fair amount of the jerks out there in the world are victims of this kind of cycle.

This article is written primarily for those jerks. (You know who you are).

I have no way of knowing this, but I’m assuming when you were ten, you didn’t want to turn out this way. You dreamed of growing up, of falling in love, maybe of having a family, of being respected and well-liked among your friends. Of making a difference. Or maybe you didn’t — but you certainly didn’t dream of becoming someone widely considered unlikable who believes the world is doomed.

Yet you find yourself here.

Before you read any further, you know returning from this place will require you to take a risk. Actually, it will require you to take many risks. You will need to risk being vulnerable with someone and being rejected, over and over and over. I know how agonizing it is, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but that’s how meaningful connections are made.

The cure is, essentially, to start taking those risks. Take whatever risks you can handle; compliment your Starbucks barista, compliment a friend on their clothes, or just repress the urge to mock your project manager — start where you are. Whatever feels like a huge step for you, take it.

And when you get kicked in the teeth — because sooner or later, you will receive a rejection that feels like getting kicked in the teeth — take as much time as you need to recover. Your tendency won’t be to do this, it will be to project far forward into the future, into a lifetime of rejections that never pay off and a life that was more lonely than if you ‘d left well enough alone, but resist that tendency. Say to yourself “I am going to take care of myself for now,” and do so, until the idea of taking a risk and reaching out again doesn’t sound quite so horrible.

Sooner or later, someone will respond to one of your risks positively, and you’ll think to yourself “well, maybe it isn’t the entire world that’s a garbage dump.” Next time you take a risk, you’ll feel confident, and it’s more likely that risk will pay off, and you’ll think to yourself “Wow, maybe not the whole world is a dump,” and on and on, until it occurs to you that maybe none of the world is a garbage dump after all.

If you’re skeptical, perhaps because you are quite convinced the world is a garbage dump, or you think I couldn’t possibly have enough life experience to understand this, consider this: what is the alternative? That I am wrong, that the world is a dump, and the only rational response is to descend into misanthropic misery? If that’s true, the ideal human life is one spent drinking and scowling, and I think we can all agree that is no ideal.

If you are that convinced the world is a dump, think of this risk-taking as your emotional lottery ticket. Yeah, most people don’t win the lottery, but those who do get to live in a world where love and meaningful connections are possible.

These lottery tickets aren’t free. The price is another rejected bid for connection and more loneliness — more pain. But unlike money, pain gets better on its own, with time. Our ability to withstand pain is a renewable resource — meaning, we can buy as many tickets as we can afford, for as long as we are alive. You don’t need to give up. As long as there is breath in your lungs, you can go on reaching out.

Do this enough, and someone will reach back.