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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why They Get Away with It

We’ve all seen them or dealt with them: they cut in line, or they shoplift stuff & try to “return” it, or they scuttle our weekend plans, or they tell people who don’t agree with their politics that we hate America, hate our troops, doing their worst to project their own hate onto us (and then accuse us of being “mean” or “angry” when we fight back). Basically, those who do any of the million and one things that violate that most uncommon of all things, “common” courtesy. And they get away with it, almost all of the time.

Why? Because the rest of us let them.

On the way home from work today, I turned off the radio, pocketed the iPod, and gave this one a little thought. People act like @$$h013s for a reason, and that reason is because it works. But why does it work? Because, again, we let it work. But why do we let them get away with it? That’s a little more complex, and sometimes different situations have different answers....
  • Maybe we’re feeling too unmotivated to do anything about it, or we don’t feel as strongly about the situation as the @$$h013 apparently does. A nice way of saying we’re too lazy to stand up for ourselves (sometimes, we won’t stand up for ourselves as readily as we would for someone else).

  • Perhaps we’ve been conditioned, via strict parenting or parochial school or some other means, to meet the expectations of others. The @$$h013 knows (or senses) this, and make its expectations clear so the rest of us know to meet them.

  • Sometimes, we’re just intimidated or shocked into inaction by the breathtaking effrontery of the @$$h013.

It’s not always enough to call the @$$h013 on its behavior; those who have been there know that brazening it out is often the best way to go. Oliver North is the perfect example — in my opinion, there’s someone who should have been tried for and convicted of treason (defined in the Constitution as “making war on the United States, or giving aid and comfort to its enemies”). He certainly gave aid & comfort to Iran, and at the time just about any American (in or out of government) would have defined Iran as an enemy. But he appeared before Congress, blamed them for all his wrongdoings, and walked away basically scot-free.

So if an @$$h013 jumps to the front of the line, and I (from a few places back) say something about it, the @$$h013 can simply ignore me. The only way I would be able to have any effect would be to walk up there and shove the @$$h013 out of line myself — becoming an @$$h013 myself, in a sense. But now I’m the bad guy, at least in the @$$h013’s eyes, because I escalated the situation into the physical realm. But the person who should have been next in line can confront the miscreant instead. That’s the person who has been directly wronged by the @$$h013’s behavior and thus can act from the high ground, so to speak.

Some Christians, and especially the neo-Pharisees that look so much like them, often natter about “taking a stand.” All too often, they end up being @$$h013s about whatever “stand” they take, forgetting the compassion without which there is nothing Christian about it (or them). But if we want a more polite society, we have to take a stand to enforce good manners, unfortunately. Mrs. Fetched, one day, saw someone park in a handicapped spot, hop out of his car, and walk toward the store. She yelled at him, “You must be mentally handicapped!” and he actually turned around and moved his car. We have often applauded cops writing tickets to people illegally parked in handicapped spots — I mean, Judas Priest, we could all use a little more exercise. One of my favorite TV news spots was one I saw while on vacation at Mom’s: the Tampa station covered a deputized wheelchair patrol, who were writing tickets to people parking in mall handicapped spots who didn’t need them. It was amusing to see the miscreants whining about how unfair it was, there were plenty of other spots, why did they have to get singled out, boo freeking hoo.

But that’s the modus operandi of the @$$h013 — nothing is their fault, they always have a good reason to believe their immediate need is more important than everyone else’s. In brief, they’ll try to project their @$$h013ry onto anyone who confronts them if we let them. I will close this with a great story that circulated in email a long time ago:
A man pushed his way to the front of a long line at an airport ticket counter, demanding that he get his boarding pass right away. “Sir,” the attendant told him, “you’ll have to wait in line with everyone else.”

“But this is important!” the line-cutter protested.

“I understand that,” the attendant replied, “but all these people have to be served, and their needs are important too. Please get in line and we’ll take care of you.”

The line-cutter flushed. “Do you know who I am!?” he barked.

The attendant picked up the pager microphone and told the entire airport, “Attention, please. We have a passenger here who does not know who he is! If anyone can identify him, please come to the XXX ticket counter.” That was enough to embarrass the @$$h013, who slunk to the back of the line, while the rest of the passengers clapped and cheered the attendant.


  1. Great post Larry. I think you are spot on with your assessment. I've been thinking a lot lately about the subjects of freedom, responsibility and limitations, both on the macro and micro scales. We all have to learn to function responsibly, but also insist on responsibility from others, while at the same time respecting freedoms, personal and otherwise...It's tricky.

    One thing though...you may say potate-o and I may say po-taaah-to, but an asshole is an asshole!! : )

  2. Thanks, Cos. As long as you don't spell it "potatoe" we should be fine! :-D

  3. Hi FARfetched. I believe you and cosmic are right on line. Especially with cosmic's last paragraph.

  4. i think also there's another factor to consider, the calculation of time and energy that will be expended ing bringing the asshole's negative behaviour to his or her attention : that same time and energy spent elsewhere, especially as the investment in the asshole is often huge and ultimately non-effective longterm.

    Not saying give up so much as...pick battles wisely? Hone one's responses carefully? Hone one's knives sharp? Dunno.

    Thank you for the link, btw.

  5. Fury, you deserve a link (and so much more than the raw deal you've got). I just finished reading your blog, start to finish, and it's a stunner.

    I guess fighting the battle by yourself is futile... but like any other cultural shift, it's numbers that count. You shut the line-cutting hag up all by your lonesome — but what if everyone else in line dog-piled her chubby arse? That might have forced her to really take a look at herself. And now that you've spoken out, others in line might remember that and be emboldened by it next time. Ripples in a pond.


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