If you’re reading this, you might be in one of two scenarios:
- You are dealing with someone in your life who is an asshole
- You have been called an asshole by someone in your life
Honestly, I have been an asshole and beset by assholes at different times in my life.
And that’s why I’m writing this: to share my thoughts about the benefits and drawbacks of being an asshole and how to deal with them. (Btw. If you’re looking for a post on how to be an asshole, this might help you gain some perspective.)
What is an Asshole?
If you need to know what asshole is, there’s no better place than Urban Dictionary to get a solid definition:
“A contemptible human who goes around doing cruel and intentional shit simply to piss other people off. These individuals get off on this and are obviously deeply insecure and have nothing better to do.”
While this definition was clearly written by someone who has dealt with assholes, I feel like we can simplify it further.
The way I like to define being an asshole is ‘someone who doesn’t treat other people with respect.
That definition is about as simple as it gets when defining what it means to be an asshole. Essentially anyone who abuses or uses people or pushes their agenda over and above everyone else’s is an asshole.
Some people think that to be an alpha male, a leader, or a big success in life requires letting go of being a nice person. But the truth is that people are attracted to confidence, not arrogance or asshole behavior.
The Rise of The Asshole Boss
Most of us have experienced working with or for someone who acted poorly.
Feeling used or abused by another person is a big reason why we feel like bosses are assholes.
Bosses and managers use our time, knowledge, and efforts for their own gain. And they don’t have to be nice about it. The money we are paid is supposed to make up for the lack of empathy and unreasonableness.
They may have used anger, aggression, unreasonable demands or some other form bad behavior to attempt to get us to perform. Ironically, being an asshole boss usually ends with the team leaving, and the boss being fired.
In 1985, Steve Jobs was fired from his own company due to his inability to adapt to the company’s changing needs, and to respect people’s feelings. Although he eventually came back to Apple, it was with a more balanced and empathetic approach.
Why do some bosses and managers think that acting like an asshole is a good tactic? It’s likely because they don’t have the skill, confidence, or self-awareness to realize they are causing damage to their company.
As Robert Sutton, author of the ‘No Asshole Rule’ explained in an article for HBR, “demeaning people do terrible damage to others and to their companies.”
Why Being an Asshole (Sometimes) Works
In the world we live in, nothing is fair.
The fact is that fairness is not part of the natural order of the world, and even though most people live with a sense of fairness, it isn’t necessary for survival.
There’s no rule book for life that says you have to be pleasant to other people or agreeable to get ahead.
In fact, when someone is rude, mean, abusive, aggressive, pushy, or selfish, very often, it helps them make progress faster than nice people. Like a petulant child, a certified asshole will sometimes get their way as a result of bad behavior.
Being respectful and considerate of others takes extra time and effort, and people who act like assholes assume that not making that effort saves them time.
And the bad news is that in the short term, using asshole behavior does have benefits.
Generally speaking, assholes make more money.
Assholes get more attention.
Assholes tend to get their way in business, relationships, and other negotiation
But, it comes at a cost: you gain short-term but start to lose long-term.
Confessions of a Former Asshole
How do I know that being an asshole doesn’t lead to a reward life?
Because when I was young, I used to be one.
Specifically, I would use my anger to intimidate people and to get my way. I would become loud, aggressive, or even abusive young man.
Most of the time I was a decent person, but when I would turn into a temporary asshole it would get me what I wanted, at least in that moment.
But afterward, there was always a nagging feeling that I wasn’t being my best self. The asshole moments led to several days or regret, apologizing, and eventually damaging relationships.
Over several years, I learned that there are better ways to get ahead in the world without resorting to asshole tactics, but there are some people who never seem to learn.
The Truth About Assholes
It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I experienced being around people who were bigger assholes than me that I realized I was doing something wrong.
I had an experience working in a restaurant for an owner who was a liar, manipulator, cheater, and abuser in almost every area of his life. The quality of the work day was totally dependent upon his emotion.
He seemed to love acting like a jerk, and unfortunately got his way with people when using asshole behavior. He would immediately turn on people if they didn’t meet his needs.
And unfortunately, despite being a horrible boss he was pretty successful… or so it seemed.
Like most people who are assholes, the reality was that my restaurant owner boss lived a miserable, lonely life. He didn’t have any close friends, his world was consumed with worries, and he constantly had to scramble to make things work.
Being an asshole does seem to have benefits in the short term. You get your way, you rule by fear, and you seem to command respect. Yet, the truth is you are only digging a hole that it can take a long time to find your way out of.
The ‘Asshole Antidote’
It took me about a month of working together with my asshole boss to realize that if I didn’t change my asshole ways, I would be living the same kind of life soon enough.
So, I started to work on my anger issues. I learned to be more courteous, respectful, considerate, and kinder. Unfortunately, there is no asshole survival guide out there that I’ve found, but I think I’ve found a workaround.
Kindness, I believe, is the antidote to asshole behavior.
Whether you are being an asshole or someone is one to you, you can nullify the behavior with a show of kindness.
Now, I want to make a point here – being kind to someone who is an asshole doesn’t mean they will change. It just means they can’t control you. It means that despite their awfulness, you are immune and choose how to act for yourself.
In psychology it is called emotional detachment – meaning you have control of your emotions despite the behavior of the toxic person.
And that, to me, is the ultimate form of power.
Avoiding Assholes is the Best Revenge
It’s very tempting to fight fire with fire when it comes to assholes.
When you are dealing with an asshole boss, a rude coworker, or a person who is being a jerk, it’s easy to yell at them, be obnoxious, aggressive, or disrespectful back to them.
But does acting like an asshole really help you? Does it actually make you feel better?
I can tell you from personal experience that trying to out-asshole an asshole doesn’t lead to anything being better. On the contrary, it just makes everyone meaner and angrier and ruins lives.
I have learned that when someone in your life is a total asshole, then rather than try to change them, simply make a plan to get away from them.
Don’t feel the need to fix things or rationalize why you’re making a change; just find a way to get away.
Move jobs, homes, or countries if you have to – but make a plan to get away from people who are perennial assholes. Of course, if other people choose to stay around them, that’s their choice. But you have to move on.
Not giving your time and attention to a person who is being an asshole is the best form of punishment for them. If you aren’t present to experience their bad behavior, they can’t get their way with you.
In short, don’t try to deal with an asshole; just find a way not to be around them.
Being An Asshole Is a ‘Cheat Code’
When I was a teenager, my friends and I used to love to use ‘cheat’ codes in video games.
We would use them to quickly gain more power, health points, or money that would make us omnipotent in the game. As a result, we’d beat the challenges much faster and ‘win.’
But, despite quickly ‘winning’ in the video game, a sense of hollowness soon followed. We felt empty inside like the cheating hadn’t been worthwhile.
I believe that this is the same feeling that most people who are assholes have inside.
They use their rudeness, aggression, disrespect, and bad behavior to ‘cheat’ their way to what they want. Yet, it doesn’t get them what they want.
Most people who are assholes trying to get respect, recognition, or a sense of belonging. But, ironically, they are going about it the completely wrong way. Their asshole behavior gets them the exact opposite result.
If you are being an asshole in your life, you might be getting ahead short-term, but the ‘cheat code’ of being an asshole is not fulfilling.
You’re much better off gaining your sense of success and fulfillment by enriching the lives of others. Nothing is more enjoyable in life than getting what you want by being a strong, kind, and respectful person.
If you’ve read this far, I hope I’ve given you some insights into the mind of people who are assholes. And even if you suspect you are being an asshole in your life, it’s never too late to change your ways.
Deep down, you know if you are being your best self or not.
After all, your actions tell the truth about you.
3 thoughts on “Is it Okay to Be An Asshole?”
I met an asshole today, an old lady, no I correct myself, an old woman as she certainly wasn’t a lady. She rudely interrupted my conversation (product related) with a clerk at a shop because we were taking too long for her liking. I asked her if it maybe had escaped her attention that we were in the middle of a conversation. This would have been her chance to backtrack and apologise. Instead she said: yes, and it would have taken hours. I then asked her if the thought had occurred to her to ask another clerk – at which she only laughed with contempt. At this point I felt ready to out-asshole her. Fortunately, I managed to retain my anger. Though I do have to admit I was still being agitated on my way home having an inner conversation with her. I’m still wondering about a way to deal with this assholeness that doesn’t keep me thinking about it. I like the idea of being kind, just to not give away control. But, truth be told, I would find it pretty hard to find truly kind words in this situation. If you have an ex-asshole idea of how to deal with this kind of disrespect effectively, I’d appreciate it! 🙂
misery loves company when it comes to assholes!