You Don’t Need to be a Jerk to Act Like One

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

There’s something that’s been bugging me since November 8th. A lot of people have been saying or doing stupid jerk-like things.

Jerk behaviour goes through cycles and the latest one is to say, “It’s okay, I’m not a jerk.” As if not being a jerk meant your behaviour couldn’t be that of a jerk.

A friend posted an article where a jerk-face was condescending a female expert about her field. Someone commented that this was obvious mansplaining (When a man disregards a woman’s experience and decides to explain things to her despite her being way more qualified to explain the thing.) A guy commented that they were using the term wrong and that there was no way to know if the jerk from the article was actually a sexist-jerk.

So here’s something that a lot of people don’t seem to understand: An action is independent from the actor. In the same way, the action is independent from the actor’s intention.

The action is independent from the actor’s intention.

Let’s tackle the second statement first. What this means is that despite being influenced by an intention, an action is its own thing. If you call someone stupid, the action is hurtful even if the intention wasn’t. Even if both parties believe the act to be harmless it’s still a hurtful act. Because it normalizes a difference in cognition as bad. This may seem like a banal example but try it by replacing the word “stupid” with the pejorative racial slur of your choice.

An action is independent from the actor.

You don’t need to be a Chef to cook a dinner. Just like you don’t need to be a jerk to do something that’s jerk-like. In the example above, the jerk who was condescending to an expert might not have been sexist, but what he was doing was sexist. It doesn’t matter what he was or what he was intending, he acted in a sexist way.

Why is this important?

It may seem pedantic to insist on this divide but it’s extremely important. People are fallible and we all make mistakes. It’s possible to do a jerk act from ignorance and not malice.

The trend is to say, “Look at that person; they did something jerk-like. They’re a jerk!” That leaves no room for the person to learn or for the person to grow. It creates a society where there are whole websites dedicated to how your favourite celebrity/activist/politician/etc is “Problematic.”

There are people out there who act constantly in a jerk-like manner and they are jerks.

I have acted like a jerk in the past and when someone explained to me why what I did was jerk-like, I tried to change my behaviour.

 

Try to not act like a jerk when people tell you your actions are jerk-like.
Éric