Monday, July 18, 2011

A Lot of People Suck

It’s just the truth.  Every day I run into plenty of horrible people.  A lot of them are dissatisfied with their position in life for any number of reasons: they work too hard, they don’t work hard enough, they’re bored at work, they’re in a bad relationship, or they just think that they should have accomplished more with their lives by now.

Consequently, they project their own shitty feelings onto everyone else, in the hopes that making other people miserable or ruining their good time will make them feel better about themselves: if they don’t feel good, why should anyone else, right?  This is unfortunately quickly becoming the norm in the service industry, as too many people have forgotten the simple phrase “service with a smile,” and changed it to, “what the fuck do you want?”

What it really comes down to is that too many people are unhappy with their situations, but too afraid to make meaningful changes in their lives.   As a result, our society suffers the consequences of this backward, fear-driven behavior by having to deal with these sucky people all day long.

“How do you know this, dick?”  Because the same thing happened to me.  I got to a point in my old job where I’d come home and snap at someone or just drink myself stupid because of how bored I was.  Even though I didn’t connect-the-dots for a while (yeah, I’m bright like that), at some point, I realized that my job was making me into an asshole.  I wasn’t taking joy in the things that mattered anymore, instead preferring the self-administered anesthetic of booze and shitty TV to pretty much anything else.

At some point, I realized I was a part of the problem.  You can’t complain about assholes all day and then turn around and engage in the same kinds of asshole-y behavior; that would make you a common bitcher.  Instead, I decided I had to change some things in my life, including my career, if I ever wanted to lead the life that I wanted to lead, and stop being such an asshole all of the time.

Now, I’m not perfect by any stretch.  I still have my sucking moments…wait, that sounded bad…”moments of sucking?”  “Sucky moments?”  “Times where I suck?”  Yeah, let’s go with that one.  I still have some times where I suck, but they’ve become far less frequent now that I’ve started to make some meaningful changes in the way that I do things.

I’ve found that there are two equally valid and effective ways to deal with these people.  The first is using your natural wit to counter any of their clumsy attacks on you.  Many people are far too beaten-down or not mentally agile enough to engage the witicist in verbal sparring, so by using wit to disarm the person in question, you’ll often get them to just quietly do their job for the rest of the transaction.

If you aren’t comfortable engaging in a witty repartee with one of these miserable people, then all you can really do is maintain your calm and kill these people with kindness.  At the end of the day, they’re looking to get a rise out of you, so if you don’t give them the satisfaction of becoming flustered, you frustrate their ultimate purpose.  This isn’t to say that you should be a pushover by any stretch—there are ways to be kind, but firm—but kindness can be equally disarming when used against someone who has really thrown in the towel on their situation in life.

I doubt this will lead to a “great cultural shift” in this country; unfortunately, I think the inertia of our shitty school system and the “dumbing-down” of America in general will have us dealing with shitty people for years to come.  But at some point, if you want to make things better, you have to lead by example.  Sure, there will probably be the same number of horrible drivers and idiots behind the counter that want to make your life a living hell, but all you can do is try not to be an asshole about things yourself, and live the life you want to lead.  Don’t let these people get to you, either: that’s exactly what they want and will make their day.  Instead, use either wit or kindness to expose what a horrible person they’re being, so that they can hopefully take steps to clean-up their own lives.  If you change even one person for the better, you’re helping society as a whole.

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and former attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

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