Believe it or not, the biggest jerks in the world don’t realize they are.
Even when they notice their behavior is hurtful to others, they excuse it. It’s always someone else’s problem: their boss was a jerk, their friends wouldn’t listen, their spouse wasn’t supportive. They never seem to realize it’s been almost every boss, every friend, and every relationship they’ve ever had. It’s always someone else, never them.
They’re like eternal teenagers, never noticing the mess they leave for everyone else to clean up.
One friend hardly ever neglects to tell me what a caring, loving person she is toward others. She doesn’t realize that she has an established reputation as being the opposite, making hurtful, blunt statements to people, somehow completely missing the blood draining from their faces when she speaks. She is hurt and lonely now because old friends avoid her, but it is completely her fault.
Another friend specializes in bullying and intimidating people around him. He openly belittles employees who don’t perform up to his expectations and considers it “constructive criticism.” He’s tolerated only because of his position and talents, but people fear straying into his line of fire. And yet he considers himself warm-hearted and compassionate and probably is—somewhere hidden deep inside. But all that proceeds forth is condescension and anger.
Why Does This Keep Happening to Me?
I watch my friends, all whom I care for deeply, and wonder how they could miss all the obvious signals people are sending them. I believe it’s because we all have a choice when dealing with interpersonal conflicts. We can blame everyone else, or we can start asking ourselves, “Why does this keep happening to me?”
If everyone always misunderstands your intentions, it should be obvious after a while that the problem is not that you’ve just got bad luck. The problem is you.
I didn’t realize I tended to overreact to minor problems at home until my teenage kids started making fun of me for it. They would mock me, jumping to the worst possible conclusions about every minor irritant. Then my wife even started joking about it. I suddenly discovered everyone in the house knew I was “Mr.KneeJerk Reaction”—except me!
That person at the office complaining about how gossipy everyone is? He’s the biggest gossip of the group. That girl telling the pastor how much she loves God and people? She’s the most abrasive, selfish person he’s ever met.
So how do they miss seeing the person staring back at them in the mirror every morning?
We’re not really certain which ancient Greek sage came up with the phrase “know thyself,” but it represents a level of insight few people attain. Knowing the true condition of our character is a rare thing. Even if we see a fault, we rationalize and excuse it. Even the worst serial killers seem to think they are pretty fun folks.
Hitler—Fun at Parties, Too?
I’m certain Hitler probably thought he was fun at parties, too. As they say, “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.”
There’s a funny little story in Judges 12. The people of Gideon had just defeated a group called the Ephraimites, but the defeated army was trying to sneak back across the Jordan into their homeland after the battle. So the Gideonites came up with a way to distinguish innocent travelers from the Ephraimites.
They had a word “shibboleth,” referring to the part of a plant containing grain. But Ephraimites had trouble pronouncing the “sh” sound and mistakenly said it with just an “s.” So when people would approach and try to cross into Ephraim, the Gideonites would demand of them, “Say Shibboleth.” When they mispronounced it, they were exposed for whom they really were. Their own words indicted them, without their knowledge.
I have a few friends I’ve permitted to tell me things about myself I don’t want to hear. They are people whom I believe have my best interest at heart. They would never try to hurt me. Warning: Not just anyone should be given that much freedom to speak into your life, but I have a few I trust.
Occasionally, they’ll ask careful questions about a perceived blind spot in my life or actions. I don’t always agree with their conclusions, but I need to hear them since they see me from a vantage point I miss. And sometimes, they can see wrong motives I’ve chosen to ignore conveniently.
I hate it when that happens.
Facing Up to the Truth About Yourself
I believe God will send people to tell you the truth about yourself. This will give you one of the greatest advantages possible, to know who you really are and not just who you wish you were. But you have to want to hear the truth—not the whitewashed snow job most people serve up.
Most importantly, you have to be willing to do something about your faults and move beyond blaming everyone else.
As for me, I’m glad I’ve learned my lesson and know a little better who I really am. It is better to deal with a little pain now than going through life like a spiritual vampire, never able to see one’s own reflection in any mirror.
I’ve got a long way to go, but I do know this: at least I’m a lot better at parties than Hitler ever was!