Last Saturday I took my kids to the park to play baseball (and also to give my wife a couple of hours of peace and quiet). My son did some fielding drills while my daughter (who is only 4 years old) played an excellent first base and snagged almost everything he threw at her.
The weather was gorgeous in Miami early Saturday morning and lots of people were in this area of the park. In fact, as we walked back to our car, we noticed the parking lot was full. When we passed an empty parking spot, we saw two cars moving quickly from opposite directions toward it. I pulled my kids closer to me (so they wouldn’t wander into the path of these vehicles, both of which were going too fast) and we watched as the cars screeched to a stop only a few inches from hitting each other.
The drivers immediately exited their vehicles and began screaming. Both men were yelling so loudly people were starting to stare.
While people were watching to see what would happen with the men arguing over a parking spot, I looked into each of the cars. There were kids inside both. The faces of the children, mine and the kids in the cars, said it all. Scared. Shocked. Embarrassed.
I went up to the guys who were now about one foot apart and told them I was leaving and I showed them where my car was parked. I asked the man whose car was pointed in that direction if he would like my spot. Seeing an opportunity to end what had now become a public spectacle, he accepted my offer.
On the ride home my seven-year-old son asked me why people would fight like that over a parking spot. He remarked that it is easier to walk a few feet more and get where you’re going instead of wasting time arguing and looking silly.
He wanted to know why two adults would behave that way.
He’s a smart kid.
I told him what I tell my clients all the time: It is easy to be a jerk.
Being an angry, antagonistic, blowhard who does nothing but make people feel bad is easy. Anyone can come up with insults and hurl them at people.
But being a jerk – not just making a point but belittling, insulting and attacking someone – reveals much more about you.
Being a jerk says three things in particular:
It says you have low self-esteem. Attacking someone personally says you don’t like yourself very much. You try to boost your opinion of yourself by attacking someone else.
It says you have no ideas. Attacking someone personally is the least creative way to handle a disagreement. Each of us has some physical issue we don’t like. Each of us, at one time or another, says or does stupid things. Each of us at one time or another, smells bad. Pointing out those things is uncreative and pedestrian.
It says you are not a leader. Leaders bring people together. Leaders offer solutions. Leaders seek to do the right thing regardless of personal cost. Being a jerk is the ultimate act of selfishness. It says you are willing to do and say anything to bring others down.
As you go about your day, make a note of how many people are jerks and how many seek to bring people together and solve problems.
Surround yourself with folks who raise the level of discourse and expel the jerks from your life.
There’s another point to be made here.
Probably a more important point.
Check your own default behavior. Do you default to solving problems? Do you default to inclusiveness? Or do you default to being a jerk?
You know what’s easy. Now remember what’s right.
Which will you choose?