It’s about noon on a Tuesday. I’m sitting at a stoplight, listening to some Toby Keith, when a woman approaches me. I’m not planning to be a dick. It just happens.
She’s carrying a dirty bucket and has a sign advertising the need to help one cause or another. The woman yells, “Hey, young lady!” with her face about six inches from my car window.
I’ve had it. I roll down the window and say, “I’m sorry, but did I invite you to come up to my car, yell at me, and ask me for money? Would you do the same if you saw me through my bedroom window?”
She stares at me, aghast.
“I think that was your cue to exit stage left,” I tell her as I roll up my window.
Yeah, I really did that. I was being a dick. And after the light turned green, I experienced about 30 seconds of abject jubilation. I thought, That’ll teach people to invade my personal space. Cue the triumphant music from Rocky.
After those 30 seconds expired, however, I felt ashamed. I still think it’s rude to approach someone when they’re in a car, minding their own business, but someone else’s rudeness doesn’t excuse my own.
It’s Harder to Be a Dick Than to Be Kind
There are a few ways in which I could have responded to the woman in the intersection. I could be a dick, as I was, or I could:
- Ignore her to communicate my disinterest
- Wave and mouth the words “No, thank you” through the glass
- Roll down my window and tell her I’m not interested
- Gesture to her that I’m on the phone
- Ask her to respect my personal space and move away from my vehicle
Notice the first one. It’s the easiest choice, right? If she wanted to be a dick, she might have knocked on my window—which would have caused me to come unassed—but she probably would have moved down the line of cars.
Aggression Versus Assertiveness
People often interchange these two words. They mean different things.
I have no problem with you or anyone else asserting yourself. However, I have a problem with aggression—even when it’s coming from me.
An aggressive act is not only confrontational, but provocative. It invites the other person to engage in heated argument, perhaps even to become violent.
Assertiveness, on the other hand, simply refers to the practice of maintaining one’s boundaries. If someone crosses my boundary, I can le them know. Not in an aggressive way, but an assertive one.
When the women in my anecdote above yelled at me through my car window, I was sarcastic and provocative. I could have gotten across the same point, but more effectively, by saying, “It’s not polite to yell at people on the street. Please don’t do that anymore.”
Same message. Different delivery.
I chose to be a dick. I could have chosen an assertive way to deal with the problem instead of showing my reactive colors.
I Was a Dick Because I Felt Like Shit
As I mentioned above, I was irritable and harried. My bad day came out in my response to the woman who hollered at me about donating to her cause.
That’s what people mean when they say that trollish Internet comments are more reflective of the commenter than the target. We like to turn our anger, anxiety, fear, helplessness, and frustration outward.
But let’s look at it from another perspective.
The woman who yelled at me to get my attention might have been feeling any number of emotions. Perhaps she was raising money for a cause dear to her heart, which inspired her to get a little too overenthusiastic with her “pitches.”
After I drove away, the story I told myself about her was much different. I assumed she was pocketing the money for herself rather than donating it to somebody in need. To my irritable brain, she was a crook, a swindler, a con artist.
We choose what stories to tell ourselves. These inner narratives don’t have to be true, but their content impacts our moods.
Just Don’t Be a Dick
There’s a really simple way to avoid looking like a dick. Think before you speak.
I need to work on this. Most of the time, words are out of my mouth before I have a chance to examine them.
If someone decides to be a dick to me, I don’t have to return the favor. Instead, I can respond assertively by asserting by boundaries, or I can ignore the person and go about my day. It all depends on the situation.
What I think is important, though, is actively trying not to be a dick. I’m going to fuck up from time to time. Everyone does. But if I can avoid being a dick more often than not, maybe I’ll get into the habit of creating more positive narratives in response to perceived wrongs.
If you want to be a dick, go with God. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind or behavior. That’s not my place.
What I’ve started to realize, though, is that I don’t like being a dick. It makes me feel sick inside, so I want to avoid it as often as possible.
What turns you into a dick? And how do you cope?