How to Avoid Being a Jerk (or Jerkette)

How to Avoid Being a Jerk (or Jerkette) June 2, 2022

don't be a jerk
Intricate Explorer via Unsplash

We all want to make a good impression in life, to be the best possible person we can be. Yet, despite our best intentions to be shining examples of love, kindness and compassion, sometimes the stresses of everyday life can wear us down. The job, the kids, the bills, you name it.

It’s at these moments, the times when we’re not at our best version, that we need to stop for a beat. Take a deep breath. Center ourselves. And if we can’t summon up the goodness that lies within us, at least follow the ancient Latin maxim primum non nocere. Its meaning: “first, do no harm.”

The idea is the world is better off  if we have a neutral impact on it, as opposed to a negative one. A couple of centuries later, the 14th Dalai Lama shared the same sentiment with this guidance:

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

Or in other words:

Do good. Don’t be a jerk.

This more colloquial version of both the Latin maxim and the Dalai Lama’s advice comes from the marketer and life philosopher, Seth Godin. He informs us that the word jerk comes from the idea of pulling hard on the reins, suddenly and without care. In Godin’s words, “horses don’t like it and neither, it turns out, do people.”

What does it mean not to be a jerk or jerkette?

  1. Don’t bully.
  2. Don’t belittle.
  3. Don’t be petty.
  4. Don’t be mean.
  5. Don’t yell or shout.
  6. Don’t be rude.
  7. Control your anger.
  8. Be considerate.
  9. Be helpful.
  10. Be the type of human being that others don’t try to avoid.

This is especially important when you’re in a position of power.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing the role of supervisor at work, mom or dad at home, or dealing with someone in the service industry, be they be a waiter, a teller or a customer service rep. Treat others like you want to be treated. Consider this (lightly edited) challenge from Godin:

In the moment, when you have power, how will you choose to act? More than just about anything else, what you do effects what people will say about you and remember about you. People pay careful attention to the restraint (or lack of it) that you show when the opportunity arises.

In other words, you need to consider the effect you have on the people you encounter and communicate with. I’m not sure when I first jotted down the list below and after searching on Google, it’s hard to determine its origin. The important thing is the simple point it makes. Whether you’re texting with friends or family, messaging a co-worker, or talking to the woman at the check-out line in the grocery store, you should ask yourself the following questions before you communicate:

T – Is this true?

H – Is this helpful?

I – Is this inspiring?

N – Is this necessary?

K – Is this kind?

When we take the time to think and ask ourselves these questions, we allow our better nature to shine through. Most importantly, we add positivity to the world around us, potentially uplifting the spirits of those we encounter. It’s about going the next step from “doing no harm” and doing some good. And that’s something worth thinking about.

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