This weekend I received an e-mail. Well, several actually but most of them were spam. But at least one wasn’t; it was very personal and full of emotion from someone I have known for at least 10 years and it said “Wow. You really are an asshole.” No explanation, no clue to what might have set it off, no links, nothing (well technically it also spread the love to my husband but that’s irrelevant in the context of this post); just that single glaring indictment.
An asshole. Me. Huh. At first I felt really hurt. I had not even had contact with this person recently and I could not imagine what I had done to garner such a hateful statement. I struggle with low self-esteem after enduring decades of bullying and it has long been my weakness to try to gain people’s acceptance so most people think I’m “really nice”. I often play the role of door mat because I am trying so damn hard to not upset anyone so for me to be an asshole, I must have really done something awful.
I got to really thinking about it. Do other people think I am an asshole? Am I an asshole? I guess first we have to define “asshole”. Several qualities come to mind when I look at my own definition; selfishness, spite, arrogance, closed-mindedness, rudeness, vulgarity, hurtfulness. I looked for those qualities in my thoughts and actions. I checked the e-mails I had recently sent to people and my social networking posts but in the past month found mostly music, science and kittens plus a post on atheism and a post promoting a friend’s business. I thought about my thinking process. I look for ways to help and to give. I forgive. I remind myself not to judge others. I reconsider my positions when new information is presented. I respect other people for who they are and I figure I should leave most people alone most of the time because I don’t want to bother them unless I have something important to say or something to share that I really think they’ll like. After review, much to my relief, I came to the conclusion that while I am human and undoubtedly make many mistakes, I do not fit the definition of “asshole”. Phew! Thank goodness!
But what would make someone say such a thing? Perspective. I know, intimately, the intent behind each action I take and each word I utter. I know how hard I try to do good for people, society and the planet. I know the minutiae of each detail of each decision I make. I know how much I agonize over wording things neutrally so as not to offend. No one else knows my motivation. So from the outside, what might someone without that insight see? In my infrequent contact, they might see someone who doesn’t reach out much or doesn’t care. In my voicing my political and religious opinions, they might see someone who pushes their ideology onto others. In my advocacy for atheism, they might see someone whose beliefs are a direct affront to the beliefs they hold near and dear. In short, they might see an asshole.
I cannot control the perspective of others. I can only try to explain when I am misunderstood. I cannot make them believe me. I cannot make them like me. I feel badly for people who consistently find offense where none was intended; people who think that every statement out of line with the dialogue in their heads is a direct attack on them. But you know what? I can’t fix that either.
In the end, the best I can do is be true to me. I can speak up against what I think is wrong and I can advocate for what I think is right. I can do so vociferously if I feel there is a need. I can show compassion and respect for others without having to fit myself into the mold they hold up for me. And sometimes, for some people, that is going to make me an asshole and now that I understand, I am okay with it. I would rather be an honest, ethical, misunderstood asshole than a carbon-copy “nice person” who destroys themselves to make others happy. Looking at it that way, I think we would all be better off if there were more assholes in the world.
I’ll go first.