Am I a Jerk? Wait, Don’t Answer That…!

Is this dating and relationship advice? Not exactly.

But I really enjoyed this piece called “How to Tell if You’re a Jerk.”

The same way there is a lot written as to whether our President is mentally unstable or just merely an asshole, this article explores what it means to know oneself – or not.

“I suspect there is a zero correlation between people’s self-opinion about their degree of jerkitude and their true overall degree of jerkitude. Some recalcitrant jerks might recognize that they are so, but others might think themselves quite dandy. Some genuine sweethearts might fully recognize how sweet they are, while others might have far too low an opinion of their own moral character.

There’s another obstacle to jerk self-knowledge, too: We don’t yet have a good understanding of the essence of jerkitude—not yet, at least. There is no official scientific designation that matches the full range of ordinary application of the term “jerk” to the guy who rudely cuts you off in line, the teacher who casually humiliates the students, and the co-worker who turns every staff meeting into a battle.”

Given my unusual job – and the random Internet criticism that comes with it – I think about stuff like this a lot. I feel like a true jerk doesn’t care about others’ feelings and can rationalize any of his own behavior. If that’s the case, I don’t qualify, because I deeply care about others feelings and am constantly self-flagellating in my attempts to become a better husband, father, dating coach, basketball coach, businessman and human being.

“Jerks are people who culpably fail to appreciate the perspectives of the people around them, treating others as tools to be manipulated or fools to be dealt with, rather than as moral and epistemic peers. To be a jerk is to be ignorant in a certain way—ignorant of the value of others, ignorant of the merit of their ideas and plans, dismissive of their desires and beliefs, unforgiving of their perceived inferiority.”

It would be impossible to do this job effectively if I didn’t listen to others’ perspectives. Essentially, I’m a dating moderate, listening to the valid complaints that women have about men, and men about women, and trying to find the reasonable middle-ground.

I’m a dating moderate, listening to the valid complaints that women have about men, and men about women, and trying to find the reasonable middle-ground.

I find, in general, the people who think I’m a jerk are people who are, themselves, extreme, and they get angry when I don’t agree with their rhetoric. MGOTWs. Radical feminists. People who take their dating advice from God. People who think the universe has a plan for their love life. People who mistake feelings for facts. Read the comments section. You know who they are.

In the same breath, I’d have to be blind and deaf to not recognize the effects of being an inveterate “truth-teller.” My wife says I’m like the guy who tells people there’s no Santa Claus and then wonders why everyone’s so upset. Thus, I’d like to think I’m more tactless than a “jerk,” but I’ll admit that there are many reasonable people who could disagree.

Personally, I don’t mind a good old-fashioned debate as long as both parties are respectful and deal with facts; many people find such conversations infuriating and pointless. I remember having four of my wives closest friends staring daggers at me at a New Years party because I was the lone liberal arguing with their right-leaning husbands. I don’t take back my opinions, but I did apologize to my wife for embarrassing her and upsetting her friends. And perhaps, that’s what gets me off the hook for being a jerk…at least according to the author:

“To the extent one genuinely worries about being a jerk, one’s jerkitude momentarily vanishes. If you prickle with fear and shame at your possibly shabby behavior to someone, in that moment, by virtue of that very prickling, you are recognizing the legitimacy of that person’s interests and values, seeing that person as an individual with moral claims upon you, rather than as a tool or fool. You have, at least for a moment, taken your jerk goggles off.”

I also liked the author’s final point on identifying oneself as a jerk: the jerk’s inability to listen.

“Plausibly, one of the most important paths to moral self-knowledge is listening, in a genuinely open way, to other people’s moral criticisms of you. The jerk cannot easily do this. Because the jerk tends not to see others as peers worthy of intellectual and moral respect, the jerk rarely accepts criticism constructively. Why take seriously what a tool or fool has to say? Why try to engage with their critical perspective on you? More likely, the jerk will either dismiss the criticism, counterattack, bloviate, storm off, or smile and sink the knife in deeper.”

If you don’t want to be a jerk: start your own blog and let the world hold a mirror up to you for 15 years.

In other words: if you don’t want to be a jerk: start your own blog and let the world hold a mirror up to you for 15 years. There’s no way to hide from yourself when everyone lets you know what they think about you. Without constant feedback – both positive and negative – I would imagine it would be hard to get a fully rounded picture of yourself.

Your thoughts – not so much on my jerkitude, but on the article itself – are appreciated. 🙂

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  1. 1

    Learning to listen…..”Ay, there’s the rub.”

    I have been a jerk to people that did not deserve it.  I have been the recipient of overt jerkiness (from men and women).  I have stopped jerkiness in others as an employer and have also been told to not be a jerk in the work place.  Well into my 40’s, I just knew that I was right.  That changed abruptly during a bitter divorce when I was wrung out and so, so tired.  One of the listening tools I have had to learn how to employ,  is to “check intent”.  Often times, a person being jerky to me wasn’t communicating well and I would take things way too personally or take it wrong.  The other tool I began to employ is to make sure the other person understood what I was saying.  I began to “check for understanding”.

    My biggest problem has been saying initially what you usually wish you would have said, while you’re rehashing the event in your mind at 3 in the morning.  Most of these encounters could have been handled way, way better.  Now, all I have is this day forward to try to not be a jerk.

    Unfortunately Mr. Katz, your chosen profession opens you up to being misunderstood.  Publicly, I might add.

    I think you’re well-reasoned and I think that the conversations your blogs stimulate  are informing…..even when the thread gets hijacked, it tends to go back to the subject matter rather quickly.  I know you’re not fishing for compliments here but the uproar is kept to a minimum and I think that you attract both men and women who want to do a better job in their relationships and come to learn.

    Thanks for the article.

  2. 2

    I think most people have different degrees of “jerkitude” (if we define it as being indiferent to other people’s feelings, opinions, etc.). I also think a certain degree of self-centeredness is necessary for our survival and self-preservation. If we were 100% sensitive to the wants and needs of the people around us, we would live a life of misery and pain, possibly leading to suicide, because pleasing everybody is an impossible task.

    That being said, there are Jerks with capital J and people with tolerable levels of “jerkitude”.

    I also think that in spite of what we say, we often reward jerkitude /self-centeredness because Jerks are often bold, confident, with leadership qualities and, alas, sometimes more interesting and exciting than their more humble, meeker counterparts. If there wasn’t any evolutionary advantage to being a jerk, all humans would be sensitive saints.

    To make things more complicated, humans are multi-faceted and sometimes you can be a jerk in some aspects and worthy of admiration in other areas. One can give thousands of examples, but the most recent case I found is that of Oskar Schindler, the man who inspired “Schindler’s List”. He was a hard-drinking, short-tempered womanizer who was unbearable for his family, he treated horribly the women in his life, but at the same time he saved thousands of lives. I would go one step further and say that to a certain degree it was exactly his “jerkitude” that gave him the IDGAF attitude and boldness to stand up to the Nazis in Nazi Germany. A more humble person would have probably been too scared to take action.



    1. 2.1

      I get what you mean, the word “jerk” is reappropiated by everyone these days and use it so mean slightly different things but the one thing people seem to have in common is the thought that “Jerks are often bold, confident, with leadership qualities and, alas, sometimes more interesting and exciting than their more humble, meeker counterparts”. If that’s true then I guess if follows the narrative that there’s less to lose than there is to gain by having higher degrees of “jerkitude”.

      I find it interesting that you think being more humble makes it more likely for that more humble person to be scared of taking action. Is it that the very thought of modesty and humility are pretty much synonymous with being “weak” and “passive” (oe at least head towards that direction)?

      And even if being “weak” and “passive” isn’t neccesarily bad, doesn’t help much being these things since (if we want to get evo-psy involved….) it falls in the line of people tending not to find that kind of stuff sexually attractive from an evolutionary point of view.

      In short, “well, it’s not necessarily bad that you are acting or behaving this way… just know that pretty much no one will find that attractive…”

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