One of my favorite Far Sides is the one where God is creating the earth. He’s in a heavenly kitchen, and the world is sitting on the counter. God is brandishing a salt shaker with the word “JERKS” written across it. As he is about to shake the jerks onto earth, God is thinking, “Just to make it interesting.”
We can all relate to this. I often wonder if the cap to the Jerk salt shaker fell off and instead of a sprinkling, there was a dumping. They’re on the roads, standing in line at the grocery store, at the DMV, and (oddly enough) employed in the curtain department of JC Penny. Jerks are simply everywhere. As Jerry Seinfeld so eloquently stated: “People. They’re the worst.”
Sometimes we have to deal with a certain jerk on a regular basis. This may be a co-worker or relative. Or a friend of a friend, or someone who happens to stop at the same coffee shop – at the same exact time every morning – as you do. While we may try our darnedest to evade these people, the fact is, often they are unavoidable.
There was a time in my life when I had to deal with a jerk on a fairly frequent basis. My tolerance was wearing thin, and I sought advice from a friend who has a knack for dealing with difficult people.
One of her suggestions (I admit, I was never brave enough to do this) was to keep a notebook and pen with me at all times. Then, when The Jerk said something irritating, I would simply open the notebook and start writing. After I was done, I was to snap the notebook closed and set it aside; until The Jerk said something maddening again, in which case I was to open the notebook back up and start jotting something down.
Let’s imagine this situation: You’re talking to someone and suddenly they whip out a notebook and start writing, only to close the notebook and look back up at you as though nothing happened. A few minutes later, out comes the notebook again. When you ask what they’re writing, they answer all blase, “Oh, nothing.”
Wouldn’t that make you feel a little … unsettled? Which is something all jerks need every now and then.
My friend also suggested that every time I come in contact with The Jerk, I should have a mental theme song. My friend found that the Wicked Witch’s these song from the Wizard of Oz worked well with the jerk in her life. I chose circus music, and indeed it added a comical element to The Jerk. (Note: you don’t have to limit it to music per se. When I shared this advice with someone else, that person chose the mental sound of the Gestapo’s sirens whenever her mother-in-law’s car pulled up in front of her house.)
The last suggestion was the one my friend wanted me to use – and rightly so. She reminded me that people are jerks for a reason. Perhaps the jerk was raised by fellow jerks. Or perhaps the jerk used to be a great person but became soured by something devastating. Maybe the jerk isn’t normally a jerk, but is simply having a really bad day and has run out of tolerance for others. (We’ve all been there.) And maybe, just maybe, we’re the one who is being a bit jerky.
Basically, my friend was suggesting that we need to have patience, and we should try to practice grace with others. Does this excuse jerky behavior? Absolutely not. But it does serve as a good reminder that we don’t know what is going on in the life of the jerk. And maybe if we did know, we wouldn’t consider that person a jerk.
Now. If only I could use that frame of mind with the lady who just waltzed through the door and didn’t thank me for holding it open for her.