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How To Deal With Jerks

Updated: Feb 16



It’s hard to deal with jerks. They are everywhere we look. Our family members are often jerks, our friends can be jerks, and make no mistake – often the biggest jerk lives inside of us (I’ve dealt with my unreasonable jerk for 30 years now). Hell, I can’t even order delicious Jamaican food without my chicken being a jerk!


Dealing with jerks on a day-to-day basis can make us cynical and lead to catastrophising, because it is a completely normal part of interacting with people. Even if we stay at home and refuse to speak to anyone, we see jerks on our TV screens and in our social media accounts. Short of doing a Holden Caulfield and building a cabin in the woods to escape humanity, we must continue to interact with jerks for the remainder of our existence.


But this doesn’t have to destroy our faith in humanity, make us pessimistic shut-ins or even be a bad thing.


As the wonderful Victor Frankl once said “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”


Unfortunately, jerks exist and they’re here to stay. Once we acknowledge that reality, and perhaps further understand the necessity of jerks in society (and for ourselves) we reduce the impact they have on our moods.


The problem with reacting to jerks by getting upset or angry, is that we are the ones that end up carrying the burden. Our days are ruined, our moods are affected and our belief in people is worn down to the point that we expect everyone and anyone to be a jerk, and so we give up trying.


So how do we deal with jerks? It’s simple. First you need to identify your values. Once you have established what is purposeful and meaningful to you, you’re already past the biggest hurdle. Myself, I value humour, empathy, honesty, courage and fortitude. You will likely value totally different things, and that’s awesome! You do you.


The second step is incredibly simple. You can either:

A) Give the jerk absolutely nothing, or

B) Respond in a way the jerk does not expect nor want.


I’ll give you one real world scenario to convey how this might look.

The following scenario we will call “The rude jerk who doesn’t acknowledge your act of kindness on the road with a thank-you wave”


You’re driving along a two-way street with cars parked on either side, meaning only one car can go through at any time. Although your side is more densely packed with cars, you notice a car heading towards you, and while they have ample room to pull over, they choose not to. You make a very awkward attempt to pull over, giving the oncoming car just enough room to squeeze by. You notice they are driving a brand-new Porsche FWD. Rather than giving the thank you wave you absolutely deserve; they simply their chin in a haughty manner, hands firmly gripping their steering wheel, making you of course assume that they’re “just a snobby rich jerk who has no regard for normal people!”


Let’s apply the five values I mentioned above and come up with a solution that doesn’t involve getting murderous, cursing out rich people, screaming loudly in our car, punching our steering wheels or doing a U-turn and chasing them down with a baseball bat.

In Option A, we give the jerk nothing. We acknowledge that we’re angry or upset, but we don’t allow them to affect our behaviour. We reflect on one or more of our values and apply the ones that might fit. In this scenario, we might apply empathy and say “that person, although rich, will suffer just like everybody else. Maybe they just had some really bad news, and their minds are elsewhere.” We might apply fortitude and say, “this is another opportunity for me to push through a situation with a jerk and choose not to react by giving them the finger.”


Remember: we have total and utter control over our behaviour. Behaviours are choices. Choosing to scream, punch, flip-off or assault are options – just like applying our values and defusing ourselves are options. We do not have control over other people making us angry. Anger is an emotion, and emotions arise whether we want them to or not. But we can always choose what to do with that anger.


In Option A, once we defuse ourselves utilising our values, we can then choose to forget that person immediately and give them not another thought – likely, they have done the same, and likely, you’ll remember nothing about this situation a week from now.


In Option B, we give the jerk the opposite response to what they’re expecting. We apply the value of humour and choose to make a big smile and widen our eyes, and wave at them like we know them as a close friend (I do this all the time!). This usually elicits one of three responses; 1) they smile and wave back. 2) they look utterly confused because they think they know you. 3) they acknowledge you by giving you the thank you wave you deserve. The net result is generally that you laugh – turning a potentially aggressive mood into a joyous one. We might also utilise our value of courage or honesty and decide to roll down our window to say (with a smile), “you know, a thank-you is always nice!” or (my personal favourite) “you’re welcome!” This is a little passive-aggressive, sure, but at the same time it is an honest response to the emotion you’re feeling. It is also non-threatening, direct, and quite honestly, justifiable and understandable.


The beauty of learning to deal with jerks is simply that it is empowering for us. When we allow a jerk to change our mood, our opinions or our outlook on the state of humanity, they win. If we learn how to give them nothing, or to give them a response they aren’t expecting that helps us, then we win. It’s a simple equation that takes a lot of hard work, but just remember - nothing good comes from anything easy.


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