By June 28, 2016 Uncategorized No Comments

I would be surprised if not all of us, at some point in our lives, hadn’t been admonished by someone with the scolding phrase: “Don’t be such a jerk.”

While those words obviously cause us to want to become defensive (“Well, if I’m a jerk, you’re a bigger jerk!”) a better approach might be to ask ourselves an important question: “What if they’re right?“

Look, I’m as guilty as the next person of occasionally being a jerk. It’s hard not to be today since jerkiness seems to be rather contagious.

My first job after college graduation was as an officer in the Marine Corps, an organization which values leaders who are “tough” and “demanding.” Sometimes this meant lauding men and women who were also tough and demanding.

However, sometimes it also meant propping up people who didn’t know where the line was and thus, were perpetual jerks—throwing their weight around, screaming at subordinates and basically acting like, spoiled, domineering brats. That meant, in turn, that some who aspired to higher ranks emulated them. The result, more jerkiness.

As I have hopefully matured, I really do strive to refrain from jerky behavior. It may feel good for a minute to lambast another person for some perceived transgression, but in most cases, it doesn’t make things better or cause that person to apologize, because they now see you as a jerk.

And, unless you are a professional jerk, acting the part typically makes us feel worse afterward.

Why the conversation about jerks today, on an election day in Oklahoma?

Well, modern-day politics somehow feeds an increased level of jerkiness. A Twitter conversation from yesterday afternoon brought this discussion to the forefront.

Representative Tom Newell (R-Seminole) is obviously opposed to State Question 779 which, if passed by voters in November, would dedicate an additional penny of sales tax revenues to teacher pay raises.

To support his point of view, Newell references a March 2016 Soonerpoll showing that the majority of Oklahoma’s would prefer the legislature do their job and shore up our tax structure and budgeting process than to have an additional penny added to their sales tax.

I don’t disagree.

But, based on the way questions are presented, these types of polls typically have a large margin of error.

Think of it this way. How would you respond if someone asked you, “Would you rather pay more in taxes or have someone else pay more in taxes?”

It’s kind of a dumb question, isn’t it?

So, when Clinton Assistant Superintendent and #oklaed advocate Tyler Bridges directly questioned the validity of these poll results, Representative Newell exploded some jerkiness by tweeting back a highly unprofessional disparagement of Tyler’s qualifications as an educator.

You can get on the Twitters and read the entire conversation if you’d like – as well as additional comments from some of us who are well acquainted with Tyler Bridges’ excellence as an educator and school administrator.

Like this one from me:

Neither Tyler or I actually expect Representative Newell to issue a public apology. It’s not something many politicians routinely do.

Yet, it begs the question: Do true jerks realize when they are being jerks?

Or, rather, has being a jerk become such a part of his or her persona that it’s simply become a bad habit?

I’ll say this again. There are certainly occasions when I have gone too far and acted the jerk in my interactions with so-called education reformers on Twitter and on this blog. I’m not proud of it. At the same time, I generally work to focus on facts and pragmatism, rather than emotion and petty personal attacks.

The bottom line is I’m trying to get better at recognizing jerkiness in myself so I can better avoid it. My wife helps me out with this too!

I like what  late journalist Sydney Harris of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote way back in 1961 about the topic of jerks:

 Thinking it over, I decided that a jerk is basically a person without insight. He is not necessarily a fool or a dope, because some extremely clever persons can be jerks. In fact, it has little to do with intelligence as we commonly think of it; it is, rather, a kind of subtle but persuasive aroma emanating from the inner part of the personality.

I know a college president who can be described only as a jerk. He is not an unintelligent man, nor unlearned, nor even unschooled in the social amenities. Yet he is a jerk cum laude, because of a fatal flaw in his nature–he is totally incapable of looking into the mirror of his soul and shuddering at what he sees there.

A jerk, then, is a man (or woman) who is utterly unable to see himself as he appears to others. He has no grace, he is tactless without meaning to be, he is a bore even to his best friends, he is an egotist without charm. All of us are egotists to some extent, but most of us–unlike the jerk–are perfectly and horribly aware of it when we make asses of ourselves. The jerk never knows.

I wonder if Representative Newell is able to recognize how his comment has been perceived. Does he know he’s been a jerk? Is he embarrassed in the least?

There are many times in life when we may feel we’re entitled to be a jerk. We’re sick or didn’t sleep well last night. Our students are out-of-control. We have a boss who is also a jerk. Our spouse has again forgotten to put his or her dishes in the dishwasher. The dog peed on the carpet because “someone” forgot to let him out. The person in the airplane seat next to you has just taken his shoes and socks off and is scratching his feet. So you’re annoyed. I get it.

But that doesn’t mean you need to pass on your misery to the next person you meet. Let the jerkiness cycle end with you. Admitting you may be a jerk is the first step.

Be nice. Be kind. Try to smile. Yeah, I know it’s hard. Do it anyway.

Don’t be a jerk. That goes for everybody.

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