How to be an ungrateful jerk

How to be an ungrateful jerk July 24, 2012

The title here is, of course, redundant. Ingratitude is the key to jerkery. If you want to be a total jerk, then you’re going to have to learn to cultivate ingratitude.

This is harder than it seems. Wherever you go, you will find yourself surrounded by and confronted with constant reminders — reasons, causes, demands — to be grateful. You must guard yourself against them. You’ll never achieve true jerkhood if you allow gratitude even the smallest toehold in your mind.

Becoming a world-class jerk is just like becoming a world-class athlete — it takes training, discipline and practice, practice, practice. Given time and determination, you can train yourself to convert even the most obvious demands for gratitude into occasions for obnoxious ingratitude.

Here we’ll just briefly look at four common hazards — four everyday potential summons to gratitude that you can learn to twist to your advantage.

1. Handicapped parking spaces.

Train yourself to complain about these. Keep the focus on you. Ask yourself: “Why should I have to park all the way back there when they get to park right by the door?” Try to perceive this as an intensely personal affront and nurture that sense of grievance. Try to think of the people who use these spaces as “lucky” — as privileged. Emphasize how this inconveniences you. Dwell on the extra 50 yards you had to walk. At all costs, do not allow yourself to acknowledge the disastrously gratitude-inducing fact that you can, in fact, walk those 50 yards, while others cannot.

2. Braille signs on ATMs and elevators.

Convince yourself that this is an unjustifiable inconvenience. Keep that thought as broad and vague as possible, since the presence of such signs can’t really be said to inconvenience you in any way. Try harrumphing something about “government bureaucrats” and “red tape.” That makes it sound like it must entail some additional cost of time or money, even if you never actually experience any such added cost. The mantra “your tax-dollars at work” can be useful here. Again, keep your focus there — on you and on your perceived inconvenience. And whatever you do, don’t allow that braille lettering to serve as a reminder that you can see while others can’t. That way lies the enemy — gratitude, empathy, and their bastard child, generosity.

3. Food allergy warnings.

They’re there on the menu at the restaurant and on the labels of much of the food you buy in the supermarket. The danger, yet again, is very real. You could easily see one of these omnipresent food allergy warnings and be prompted to recognize how difficult it must be for others to have to maintain a constant vigilance against peanuts or gluten or dairy products. Don’t allow that to happen. You want to sit around having sympathy for others’ hardships, feeling grateful that you’re privileged to be spared such challenges? Fine, you go ahead and do that — but you’ll never be a real jerk if you do. If you want to achieve jerkery, then you’ve got to turn that around. Don’t think, “Everywhere I turn I see these reminders of the difficulties others face,” but instead think, “Everywhere I turn I’m harrassed by these food allergy warnings. Give me a break, it’s like they’ll never leave me alone.” Again, keep the focus on you — you’re being inconvenienced, you’re being put upon, burdened, bled dry. If you can’t be bothered to complain unless you’ve got something substantial to complain about, then I’m forced to question your commitment to being a total jerk.

4. Trigger warnings on the Web

By this point the pattern should be clear. You should be able to recognize the dangers, and to apply the proper counter-measures. The danger, again, is that such reminders of the hurdles and challenges others face can prompt unwanted feelings of gratitude, empathy and generosity. And the response, again, is to avoid thinking about them and to keep the focus on you. Turn this into something to complain about. Train yourself to perceive the presence of such trigger warnings as an inconvenience, an affront, a burden, a personal insult. Resent them.

The theory is simple. The practice is hard. Being an ungrateful jerk is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. The perils of epiphany lurk around every corner. At any moment, you might see a handicapped parking space, a sign in braille or a trigger warning on a website and be overwhelmed with gratitude, empathy and generosity. But you’ll never be an ungrateful jerk if you let that happen.


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