Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How to Stop Being a Jerk

I find that I spend a lot of time analyzing people. I just can't help it - I am a scholar and a researcher, and it spills over into how I observe the people around me. For some reason, I am fascinated by the behaviors of the absolute jerks of the world. You know who these people are - they can be rude, unpleasant, demeaning, and arrogant. (You can read my analysis of one category of jerks in my post about Toxic Coworkers).  Here is one definition of a jerk:
\ˈjərk\ - an unlikable person; especially : one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded

What is amazing about so many of these jerks is that they usually do not realize that often their own jerky behavior actually limits their ability to succeed. It is true that an individual might find some short-term success through the use of manipulative, toxic actions; however, over the long-term, that individual will reap the negative results of their negative actions. Here are some of my own observations of toxic (jerky) behaviors with the corollary healthy behaviors in a work environment:

Toxic and Healthy Behaviors

Toxic Behaviors (in coworkers)
Healthy Behaviors
  1. Constantly critique others
  2. Complain daily about work situations
  3. Gossip about and slander other coworkers
  4. Find fault with everything others do
  5. Constantly angry, use foul language
  6. Lie about others

  1. Share constructive, formative feedback.
  2. Focus attention and communications on what can proactively be accomplished
  3. Speak positively of others (when deserved)
  4. Facilitate success in others
  5. Control anger and use professional language
  6. Speak truthfully and kindly of others

Character is the Foundation of Behavior
Somewhere beneath behaviors lies the character of the individual doing the actions. One must pause to consider what a jerk believes about themselves and others. What are their assumptions about life? How do they perceive their roles in life, in their families, and in the workplace? What do they believe will bring them happiness and success in life? What principles do they allow to guide their actions? Are they even aware of their own beliefs and assumptions about life? Perhaps being a jerk is simply a result of having very little self-awareness, an inability (or a lack of desire) to look honestly in the mirror and acknowledge what is found.
Unhealthy Character
  Healthy Character
  1. Appearance/possession-focused
  2. Selfish
  3. Gratification-focused
  4. Focused on short-term
  5. Careless attitude toward of resources
  6. Abusive toward others
  1. Character-focused
  2. Giving, serving
  3. Self-restraint, delayed gratification
  4. Focused on long-term
  5. Respect and judicious use of resources
  6. Respect of and service to others

Change Character Through the Power of Beliefs
If character is the foundation upon which our actions are built, how might we build our character? To change our character, we must change our perceptions, or beliefs about the world and about others. I have found that beliefs that are (1) true and (2) empowering yield the greatest shifts in character and therefore action. Understanding and believing these principles provides a great deal of personal power. I've outlined a few below. Notice the sequential nature of these principles - each principle leads to the following principle.

Empowering, Healthy Beliefs:
  1. My actions have results. This is often called the law of the harvest - whatever you sow, that is what you will reap. One verse of scripture reads "That which ye do send out shall return unto you again." This is true in every aspect of our lives, including our relationships with others, and understanding and believing this principle can provide a fundamental shift in how reality is perceived.
  2. I have the power to choose my actions. Our "free will" or our ability to choose our behavior is like a muscle - we can exercise it to increase and control our capacity to choose our actions. We have the capacity to respond to our circumstances in ways that yield positive results. The famous quote states, "The problem is not the issue, the issues is how you deal with the problem." Unfortunately, this means that we cannot continually blame others for our actions.
  3. I have the power to choose the direction of my life. We have the ability to clearly identify and articulate what we desire in our lives - what we want to know, do, become, or have. We can set a direction for our lives. This belief can be enacted through the process of goal setting, which I describe in this blog post.
  4. I can move my life in the direction I desire through purposeful action. This is really a combination of the previous three beliefs. We have the ability to live a life of purpose, and it is by setting goals, selecting actions that will help reach those goals, and doing those actions that we move in a purposeful direction.
  5. I have the ability to positively influence and benefit people around me. This belief is a natural extension of the previous four. I have found that working to positively influence and bless the people around me has brought me significant intrinsic awards. In addition, sending out positive energy and actions to others will inevitably yield a return of positive energy and actions. It is through healthy interactions with others that our success becomes most fulfilling.
Applying to Education
So, how does this relate to instructional design and education? I believe that people are infinitely more empowered when they learn principles of this nature. In education, we tend to focus our attention on surface-level learning - knowing facts, solving problems, gaining skills - and we ignore the foundation on which all human behavior resides: our beliefs and our character.

I also believe that true educators already embody many of these beliefs. They dedicate their lives to positively influencing others.

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What reactions do you have? Do I oversimplify the issue? Do jerks just need to change what they believe about life to become less jerky? Your comments are welcome...

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