Do you ever get one of those days, when your faith in humanity is at an all-time low, and you feel like 98% of all adults on the planet are either assholes or your mom and dad, while the remaining 2% of humans are in serious danger of death by suicide? This might be my raging PMS talking, however damn it feels like there are a lot of gratuitous assholes in the world (addressing the PMS-bias is fine when I mention it).
It’s been one of those days today; gratuitous assholes have kept me unwanted company throughout the day, driving my misanthropy to climax levels. This isn’t by far the first time this has happen, obviously. However, in the day and age of over-sensitive special people with special needs, I barely even dare mention my struggles with this for fear of being seen as another millennial who’s here to enlighten medical science on the 3096 genders it has missed. (Spoiler alert: I’m not one of those, and that’s not where this is going.) Yet, before I shy away from the world completely and retreat back into my cats-infused empowering cynicism, we need to talk about gratuitous assholes and how they shape our view of the world and ourselves.
What are gratuitous assholes, and how do they differ from regular, run-of-the-mill assholes?
It’s about motive: when your colleague Jim’s an asshole to you because he’s lobbying for the same promotion you are and he’s aiming to make you look bad, that’s a regular asshole; they have a goal to achieve and insufficient ethics to try and achieve it without being assholes. I can live with these. They’re the assholes your mother warned you about, the `dog eat dog world` people you were taught to stay guarded around. Dealing with these is a skill most of us acquire early on in life, probably around the time your 4th grade colleague copied all your answers on the math test, but screamed TEACHER JANE IS CHEATING when you asked if you could do the same on the French test. It’s become our worldwide default after the emotional age of 8 to assume that all people are like this: will stab you for personal gain. That’s fine — it is what it is and I learned to predict the patterns at an early age, as have most of us.
Gratuitous assholes have absolutely no other motive but to see you hurt; they gain nothing, aside from a shady ego boost. No promotion, no favors with the teacher, nothing but the pleasure of watching you feel like shit. If you don’t know what I mean, chances are you’re either one of them, or extremely lucky and living in a cave without Internet how are you even reading this. This unjustified assholism gets to me sometimes; they catch me off guard because I don’t see it coming, as one would when you know you and Jim are competing for the same promotion and it’s a tight score for the boss’s favors. No matter how often this gratuitous assholism happens (as a female in her 20s with unconventional style and tons of tattoos who takes pride in her wits: often.), I always revert back to the helpless nerd-child I was when I took my first slapping-around of public humiliation. The physical disadvantage, the debilitating loneliness, the confusion — it all comes rushing back and sticks into my throat, forcing a sort of play-dead-until-it-passes instinctive reaction on me. However, the shock is always the most striking emotion: why? Why are you doing this? What’s it adding to your life to even be worth the bother?
Because that child that I was never understood why this was happening, that child didn’t know how to stop it from happening again. The child became gradually more paranoid of everything and everyone, because everything and everyone could end-up replicating those mysterious circumstances of mental and physical pain. If people don’t need an actual reason to hurt you, anyone could hurt you — thought the child.
Today, I understand: people are gratuitous assholes because they have low self-esteem and it makes them feel better about themselves; they do it because it entertains them; they do it because they need to take it out on someone in what has long become a vicious circle of chronic gratuitous assholism; they do it because your being different is a threat to the validity of their decision to conform; they do it because they’re frustrated; they do it because they, in turn, feel the need to pry on the defenseless. A single common element emerges from all of these experiences: It’s not about me.
For me, the key to no longer bleeding as a result of random stabs was realizing that it has nothing to do with me: it’s not that there’s something so fundamentally wrong with who I am as a person that it warrants verbal cruelty; it’s not that the quirks of my severe anxiety are so annoying that some can’t help but literally hit me in the face; it’s not that I’m broken and people are offended by that to the point of violence — it has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with me. I could’ve been anyone else, I could’ve chosen my words anyhow else, and the outcome would’ve been the same; it was never about me, it was just my accidental timing in their lives that was right, that presented the gratuitous asshole with an opportunity to feel better about himself by hitting me/screaming slurs at me/threatening me. Shifting the narrative away from me, the butt-hurt, and onto the people who had hurt me, helped me realize that I’m not wrong. It’s not about me, it was never about me.
Has this realization succeeded in preserving my faith in humanity? No. No, it has not. To be fair, all it has succeeded in preserving is my self-esteem, so that I in turn do not become just another self-esteem-lacking gratuitous asshole. I’m too young to be this cynical, and way too old to ever be innocent again. I have seen people torture kittens (over my dead body), I’ve been beaten in the street as a teenager over the way I look at people (that-one, I still don’t get), I’ve seen someone want to commit suicide over the unbridgeable damage done to their self-image at an age when verbal cruelty is the highest form of tragedy. My view of the world cannot go untainted, and that’s probably true for the majority of people over 20 who possess a healthy level of empathy. Eventually, we come to either turn into assholes, or internalize the conclusion that the world is a place to be threaded through with caution.
I don’t know about you, but to me, the thought of those being the only 2 options (asshole or paranoid) is depressing as hell. Except, luckily, we still end-up ignoring our reason and our defensiveness at times.
I still trust and get screwed over; I still get used; I still expose my emotions or fears and am met with cold boredom — people’s actions still cause me emotional pain at times, which means I’m not that cynical after all. In fact, I’m sometimes breathtakingly naïve enough to put myself out there and hope for the best, despite all the past experiences advocating for the contrary. And the truth is, that’s the best anyone can do: nobody owes you anything; most of the people you engage with won’t validate you; a lot of the people you’ll love won’t care if you get run over by a train the next day; people are sadly not legally accountable for being morons so they will do so a lot without consequences; life is not supposed to be fair.
The best you can do about any of it is put yourself out there when you feel like it might be worth it, and brace for impact. The impact might shake and break your entire reality and you might end-up spending months or even years cleaning up the resulting mess; but the impact might also just be positive impact, or more often it can be a little bit of both.
Give them the chance, and good people will slip through the cracks and come into your life to make all of the previous damage worth powering through. This isn’t optimism mind-you, it’s just a simplistic take on statistics: there can’t just be assholes making-up the world, and you’re bound to run into some of the good ones as you go through life — chance it; be vulnerable and naïve and take the chance. Even if you’ll get hurt, it’s what keeps you human.
Like my rambling? Show me some love. I’m new here, been lurking for ages, afraid to get past the `new here` stage. I love feedback, but please be constructive.