Apr 052015 19 Responses

Sometimes You Need to Be a Jerk

It’s never my intention to be a jerk. I want to be kind and thoughtful. I hope to assist other people in their lives. Yet on occasion it is okay if other people think I’m a jerk.

When my daughter was born, she automatically qualified for financial assistance because of her diagnosis of Down syndrome. While the formal process had to be taken, it should have been a simple task because a genetic test confirmed her condition. In most cases, a medical team has to determine whether or not a child will need special services. In cases of Down syndrome, there is no need for debate. (See: What I Prayed the Night Ella Was Born)

Yet what should have been an easy process became a nightmare. The problem arose because of an underfunded, over-worked, under-motivated Department of Health and Human Services. My local office would need to do the paperwork to send to the state office. The state office would then approve the application. Again, because of her diagnosis, approval was guaranteed. All that needed to happen was to get the paperwork to the state.

It was an easy step, but it was the step which became the hold up. I submitted all my information and waited. A week later I contacted the state office seeking approval, but they told me they had not received my paperwork. I called my local office, but they did not return my call. I called again. And again. Finally I received a call telling me the process would take months and that I needed to be patient.

But I didn’t want to be patient. From my understanding there was no reason the process should take months. So I inserted myself into the process in order to see if we could speed it up.

I visited my caseworker and encouraged her. I would go through the application process very loudly which meant when she did a good job, every boss of hers would know her name and know how good of a job she did. It was a great opportunity for her and I would assist her. (See: 8 Leadership Lessons Ella Taught Me in Her First 8 Years)

This was unfair, she explained. A stack of applications sat on her desk, it wouldn’t be right for her to put mine at the front of the line. I understood her thoughts, but the thought of fairness had left my mind the moment my daughter received a diagnosis. For me this wasn’t about fairness, it was about getting things done.

I played a card I did not want to play. Seeing no effectiveness in my “let me help you approach,” I reminded my caseworker of the other side of the coin. I was going to be loud through the process either way. If I did not receive the help I needed, every boss of hers would know about it as well.

No matter what she did, I was clear what I was going to do. How it impacted her was in her hands.

To her I was a jerk. To my daughter I was a good dad. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

We never have a right to be a jerk. We are always called to be loving, compassionate, kind, helpful, grace-filled, peaceable, and generous. We never have the right to give someone a piece of our mind or to use (or abuse) others to make ourselves feel better.

But we should not confuse what we are commanded to do with how others perceive us. We could be a jerk and no one realize it. We could be kind and others think we are being a jerk. We control us; we do not control how others perceive us. (See: Never Try to Prove Yourself)

To be an effective spouse, parent, employer, employee, citizen, and person, there are times in which you will have to allow other people to think you are being a jerk. You can’t use this as an excuse to actually be one. You must always check your heart and your motives. You must continually evaluate your course of action and search for a better way.

Yet there are times in which we can do the right thing and others will not like our action. Some will make the assumption that we are rude, self-centered, or just being a jerk. Let them think it.

Choose wisely and let people think what they want.


19 Responses to Sometimes You Need to Be a Jerk
  1. STEPcoach Reply

    Difficult call. I agree that sometimes – especially when dealing with government types – we must play the Jerk. And I’ve become quite effective at doing so when absolutely necessary. But I think it’s always important to follow up after matters are taken care of with a sincere apology and a thank you. Sometimes, I’ll even make sure to offer the “carrot” by praising their help with their supervisor. I like the quote, “Sometimes the answer to WWJD involves the strategic application of a whip!”

  2. Kerry Reply

    You’re right Kevin, sometimes we have to be the “squeaky wheel” that gets our wants done before others, and it’s very hard for non confrontational people to do it. But as an employee of a government agency that is understaffed most days, and dealing with impatient people, I would have thought you were a jerk that day. I also have had to deal with so many voice raisers and name droppers, that I can also know that people are just frustrated and aren’t necessarily acting out selfishly. In saying that, it does not take away the feeling you get when one is just trying to do the job fairly within the rules we’ve been given. But the previous post is spot-on, when someone is in the next time and says “hey, sorry for _____, I was rude, abrupt, whatever, and it wasn’t aimed at you, just the system.” It means so much and gives us the reminder the “jerk” wasn’t a jerk after all, just someone with a situation in life that needs addressing. You say we shouldn’t be concerned of how others perceive us, but I think it’s a good check and balance at times. I think it does matter that others think we are that way. It’s not so different from someone nice every Sunday and a jerk on the ball fields. They want what they want. Yes, you being a dad is far more important, and I’ve certainly asserted myself, but am very understanding with the workers, they truly are just trying to do their jobs daily to support their children and families.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Kerry, I can’t imagine the pressure on the worker. I began the process with extreme empathy because I had heard the war stories. It took me a couple of meetings before I got to my breaking point.

  3. David Reply

    If there really was a stack of applications that you bypassed to get yours processed, how was that not being a selfish jerk? If you had invited the lady to church would she be motivated to go or to decide that your church was probably not a place a rational person would want to go? Kevin, you are often right on, but this time you placed your needs (I assume you would have gone bankrupt or had severe financial difficulties with a delay in the benefits applied for) ahead of the needs of others. I have found that quiet friendliness, listening well, and seeking the good of the one from whom you want services accomplishes more without estranging them.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      David, I didn’t have any needs in this situation. It wasn’t a money issue; it was a service issue. On one hand I had experts telling me my daughter needed a bunch of services immediately, but then on the other hand they were telling me I couldn’t get those until she was approved. I agree that quiet friendliness (etc.) often does work well. That is why I went with that approach. It actually took quite a while for me to change my approach. What finally shifted my thinking was I realized I was more worried about what this person thought of me than what my daughter needed. My daughter needed me to forget about what one person thought of me and do what was necessary. I would hope the person would see our church as one who speaks up for the child with special needs even when the system is not always working to help them.

  4. Brenda Reply

    I’m sorry but I have to agree with David this one. I imagine all the people in that stack ahead of you felt the same way you did. Why did your daughter’s needs become more important than all the other needs? If you wanted to be a “jerk” in a good sense of the word (although I fail to see that as a good thing) why didn’t you push to get all the other ones processed in a timely manner so your daughter didn’t have to wait so long. I love your posts but not this time. Your thinking and subsequent actions come across as very prideful. There are two Down syndrome adults in my family so I know about needs but this was wrong, in my opinion. There may be times when being a “jerk” might be ok but I can’t think of one off the top of my head. (Maybe saving someone for doing something harmful?)

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Brenda, I think one difference between my case and the rest was that there was no discernment necessary. Most cases involve judgement calls, research, trying to understand the situation. My case simply needed have some paperwork filled out so it could be passed on to the state office. The state was telling me it shouldn’t be taking this long. That is probably what gave me the courage to try a different approach after my initial attempts failed.

      Also, the “jerk” part is about perception, not action. While I agree with everything I said in this article, I could easily write another post entitled, “You Never Have the Right to be a Jerk.” The difference is between how others perceive you compared to your actual actions. This article is about the perception of another person thinking I was a jerk. Another article could be on my actual actions.

  5. Carol Reply

    How did being a jerk benefit the situation? Did the worker put your application first or did yours get processed along with everybody else’s and you just made the workers life more miserable? You say it wasn’t selfish because the need was not yours but I disagree. It was your worry and frustration that caused you to be a jerk. I think this just shows how our society expects their needs to be fulfilled first before the needs of others and they have little concept of what work it actually takes. Our society requires workers to do at least twice as much works as we used too. I have worked at places were they laid off my partner then required me to do both jobs. What if 25 people come to you at the same time and need to talk to you. You tell them to get in line, then someone comes in last and throws a fit because he wants to talk first because he believes his problem is more important. There are people applying for benefits all the time. I was one of them. It took a long time and I did without but I never thought of harassing someone over it. You say you want the church to be seen as one who speaks up for special needs of children. I am sure many of the applications were for children with special needs. How many did you speak up for other than yours? And again, how did being a jerk help the process? Every meeting with you took more time away from processing applications. The sad thing, our disability office has a security guard and if you raise your voice, he is right next to you because there are a lot of jerks.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Maybe I need to make an addendum to the post.

      It’s important to note–I’m in no way encouraging rude, selfish, or immature behavior. The point of the article was that on occasion you might have to take action which could cause another person to think you are being a jerk. I’m not saying you have any right to actually be a jerk.

      Carol, I can only imagine what you see in the office. The last thing many of those clients need to be is a jerk.

      In my opinion, I was never the actual jerk even though I was perceived to be one (although by putting the word in the title, people actually click on the article).

      If “the fair thing” was to make me wait my turn, each person could have easily said, “Kevin, you need to wait your turn.” Instead, every other person within they system (both local and state) who was waiting on the paperwork was telling me, “it shouldn’t take this long.” When they received the paperwork, the process went extremely smoothly.

      I will never forget those in the state office who assisted me and made the process a success. I’ve only had one bad experience with DHS; I have multiple good experiences.

      Maybe my attempt to conceal some of the conversations and the reason I had to finally take a different approach has made me look more like a jerk than I had hoped. Sorry for the confusion.

      As for how it helped the situation–my daughter received services within weeks when I was originally told it might take a year.

      While the story is interesting, there are many more details which my word count has not allowed me to share. The point of the article was simply to show that sometimes you have to be willing to do what you think is right no matter how someone else might perceive you. For many people, this is the last article they need to read because they are naturally good at being jerks. For others, who are codependent and often worry about the perceptions which other people have of them, this article might be useful.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  6. Brenda Reply

    Maybe the article didn’t convey what you really wanted to say so everyone wouldn’t think you acted like a jerk you were saying people might perceive you to have been. The article, as it is written, makes you look like a jerk. You made it sound by appearing to be a “jerk” you got something done. You made it sound like you bypassed everyone in front of you. I’m hoping, as I’m sure everyone else does, is that your issue was a very minor one needing very little time. The concern is that there may have been several people in front of you that had something very minor too. In this case the “squeaky wheel” got ahead. I understand the whole idea that you sometimes have to do something even though some people perceive you as being a jerk even though you don’t perceive it yourself but this article doesn’t come across that way. We all sympathize with you and the way the system works (overworked and doesn’t move quickly) but saying you moved ahead of other people may not have been the best example. I think we all get it was a simple thing and didn’t take much time but you still have to wonder how many of those other forms were simple ones too. We still love your posts though!!!!

  7. John Reply

    The most common arena in which this arises is in family dynamics. Particularly with in-laws. I often have to be a jerk to my family in order to make my wife feel loved and respected. If I appeased my family, I’d end up being a jerk to my wife. I have found that in these situations, I am a jerk in someone’s eyes. I have to decide in whose eyes that will be. It will be my wife that I make happy every time. I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t appease everyone, and if I try, I end up sacrificing what is important to the one I love most. So I’ve tried learn to be a gentle jackass instead of an braying one.

  8. bgsealsrenda Reply

    John, all I can say is good for you! My husband never took my side against his family. Instead of being a jerk to them, he was a jerk to me. It caused a lot of hurt and anger. It was not something I wanted my daughters to witness. A man who who put his family before his wife was not something I wanted my daughters to think was right or ok. If he had stood up for me one time it would have stopped all the other confrontations. I honestly believe his mother relished in the thought he chose her over me–every time. It was clear enough in the bible to be written three times–Matthew 19:5, Genesis 2:24, Ephesians 5:31 all state a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become one.

  9. […] Determining the degree of an offense can assist us in discerning the need for response. I can ignore... kevinathompson.com/if-this-offends-you-im-not-sorry
  10. Lynda Reply

    Having a child with special needs and multiple health issues, I feel I understand your frustration. I am my child’s advocate in every area he walks and I continually dread succumbing or feeling I have to succumb to jerk behaviour in what I try not to characterize as the ongoing battle for his services and care. I think that is one of your points. But I see the explaining, reasoning, or justifying what is–rightly or wrongly–jerk behaviour as an impossible task. Hackles rose at the thought of your behavior putting your application (possibly) ahead of mine, despite any details of the total situation you’d left out, or the results earned through this behaviour for any one or group. Jerk behaviour, we see, has a life of its own well past the minute it’s released, and is something to not do, not to avoid or consider when it presents itself (read, tempts) when we see all else failing. But it can work, right?, and is a tremendous temptation for me when it involves my child. Pray, email, call, document without ceasing. Hugs and blessed luck to you and yours from one in similar shoes.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Lynda, one clarification I wish I would have made more clear is this: I never have a right to actually act like a jerk, but I will sometimes have to be perceived as a jerk by other people. The article is about the latter, not the former.

  11. […] 2) Maybe my feelings needed to be hurt. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was selfish. Maybe your action is... kevinathompson.com/hurt-feelings
  12. deb Reply

    I find people giving this dad a hard time for advocating for his daughter to be conveniently judgmental. He is not responsible for anyone but his daughter. Jesus repeatedly favored his people but when the Centurion advocated for his servant, Jesus put those needs ahead. Not using this as a proof text, just as an example. And the Caananite woman’s daughter.

  13. Chris Burdick Reply

    I know it’s not the right thing to do, but sometimes, you have to be a jerk or people will walk all over you and you’ll feel like you can’t do anything about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Please enter your name, email and a comment.