How to Avoid Turning Into a Jerk When You’re Surrounded by Jerks

One day, years ago, while our Beloved Leader, Larry Brody, was producing the Emmy Award winning series, POLICE STORY, the head of Columbia Pictures Television, the studio behind the show, paid a surprise visit to his office.

LB was uncomfortable with this because, as he tells it, “I was always uncomfortable around the Gerb [David Gerber, President of the studio). He was a literally awe-inspiring bully and I was terrified of him. But I wasn’t worried this time around because we’d just gotten both rave reviews and great numbers for the most recent episode. I figured maybe, just once, he would give the staff the thumbs up.

“Instead,” continues LB, “he reamed us up, down, and sideways for every mistake and inefficiency in the world since before the birth of Christ. After he swaggered out, I stared at his assistant, who was looking after the boss with his eyes gleaming in total adoration.

“‘Wow,'” the assistant said. ‘That was amazing.'”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” LB demanded. “That was a major asshole move.”

The assistant, who shall be nameless because our Beloved Leader honestly doesn’t remember his name, sighed. “Sorry, man,” he said. “But you know how it is. Aren’t we all aspiring to be assholes?”

Which leads to the question: How does this kind of aspiration come to be? How, when we’re part of a culture that celebrates what we hate most, can we stop ourselves from falling into line with it?

Think about it while you read this absolutely showbiz-free take on the matter:

just-another-day-on-the-jobby Kristin Wong

Working in retail, I still remember one of my worst customers. He handed me a quarter and what looked like a single one dollar bill. I said, “Sorry, the total is two twenty-five.” He pulled apart two crisp bills, which I didn’t notice were stuck together, and slowly counted, “One…two. Do you speak English? Do you know math?” I was fuming, but I said nothing. I was, however, short with everyone else that day, until a friend asked, “what’s your problem?” The problem was: I let that jerk turn me into an jerk, too.

This is something that happens to me all the time, and I think it happens to a lot of us. You’re a nice enough person, but you’re put in an environment where everyone is rude, and next thing you know, you’re rude, too. Maybe someone just gets under your skin and you don’t even realize it’s happening. Or maybe all of your friends are kind of jerks, and you gradually start becoming more like them.

Whatever the scenario, this happens because rudeness is contagious. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers had subjects reply to a neutral email. Some of the subjects watched a video of a rude interaction before replying, and their replies were a lot more hostile. That experiment and two others were enough for researchers to conclude:

Specifically, we show that rudeness activates a semantic network of related concepts in individuals’ minds, and that this activation influences individual’s hostile behaviors. In sum, in these 3 studies we show that just like the common cold, common negative behaviors can spread easily and have significant consequences for people in organizations

Whether it’s rude coworkers, nasty Internet trolls, or just impolite strangers you encounter out running errands, here’s how to avoid catching someone else’s jerky behavior….

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