Recently I came across a magazine article written by a rabbi and entitled: The Spiritual Power of Admitting Our Faults. Hmmm, thought the skeptic in me, I have to read this. The feature opened with the acknowledgement that the writer was sometimes a jerk. He went on to cite the two primary definitions of the word: 1) An annoyingly foolish person. 2) An involuntary spasmodic movement due to reflex action.
“There is an illuminating connection between these two definitions,” he observed. “Just as a physical jerk is an automatic, unconscious response to an outside stimulus, we act as jerks when we respond to others out of unthinking, automatic responses that stem from unconscious beliefs and patterns. We act as a jerk, for example, when someone says something that provokes anger in us and we immediately lash out with hurtful words [maypwis?], as though this is the natural and only possible way we could have responded. And then we refuse to apologize or take any responsibility for the escalated conflict because ‘it’s not my fault; he started it.’ ”
And yet the writer does not consider jerk behavior a bad thing to be condemned and scorned. Indeed he equated the jerk with the child that throws a tantrum because he cannot have a chocolate for dinner. In the same way a good parent would not condemn the child but would instead recognize the need to teach him some things are not good for him, and that other people also have needs, so the jerk should not be condemned and scorned. Instead, advised the writer, the jerk should be taught to recognize his behavior for what it is: “An unconscious thing, a human thing that becomes a problem only when we refuse to acknowledge and look at it, when out of fear of rejection or stubborn pride we are unwilling to accept that we are all fallible and sometimes fall short of our expectations, that we accidentally do things that hurt others, that we are often asleep and unconscious.”
When we act like a jerk and refuse to acknowledge it, notes the writer, “we begin to hide behind masks of perfection, anger, depression, separation, cynicism, irresponsibility or superiority, and the more we push our jerkiness away the more it waits in the wings, gathering mass, demanding to be seen, ready to pounce at the most inappropriate moment, with more force, creating more damage. Then, in reaction to this outburst, we redouble our hatred for this part of ourselves and push it farther away, accelerating the downward spiral, alienating us from our own tender humanity, distancing us from deep connection with others.”
Something ignored or denied cannot be healed. “Without admitting our jerkiness,” noted the writer, “we can never understand, master and mature it, and it will have unconscious control over us.”
I read The Spiritual Power of Admitting our Faults a second and third time before heading for my bathroom, where awaited the guy in my full-length mirror.
“Are you a jerk?” I asked. And he said, “Well . . .”
“No wells, ifs or buts,” I said, “I want nothing but the bald truth, and I want it now. Are you a jerk?” “Okay,” said the guy in the mirror, eyes downcast. “I confess that from time to time I have been a real jerk. Like when I could not resist overtaking the car in front of me, even when I was in no hurry whatsoever, and almost caused a nervous old lady to drive her car off the John Compton highway into the water near Government Buildings. I’m also a full-fledged jerk when I let my ego stoop beneath the dignity of sophistry and…”
“Hey, enough already,” I said, “you know damn well I never attended university.”
“Well,” said the man in the mirror, a little sheepishly, “I refer to the times when in my desperation to win pointless arguments with chronic inebriates I depended on sheer cleverness not necessarily related to fact.”
“You’re doing it again,” I said.
“Drunks and sundry alcholics.”
“Ah, that!” I said. “Okay, I get it. Now, let’s move on, let’s move on!”
Shortly before lunch I headed for a particular Castries establishment especially famous for the heavyweight church honcho who owns it and his masochistic lunchtime clientele. For several years these gentlemen of higher learning had endured without complaint a menu that is as irrevocable as the Ten Commandments—except perhaps during jounen kwéyòl week when even a forensics expert couldn’t tell the jol cochon from the endangered-manicou breast and the lamowee roti. On the recalled afternoon, the learned gentlemen at the resturateur’s table were discussing when I joined them the weekend STAR’s front-page headline: Crime In Our Time: King, Kenny Key to Resolution!
“It’s all a trick to get the government off the hook at election time!” said the hack in red long sleeves and tie. “In 2006 they said they would wipe out crime and . . .”
The diner opposite him put down his fork and gently pointed out that “the whole point of the article was to suggest the prime minister and the leader of the opposition forget all they said before about crime fighting and concentrate instead on new strategies. The other party also promised to lower the murder rate that was around twenty-something in 1996 but by 2006 had leapt to 42.”
“And now it’s forty-eight,” said the man in the red shirt.
“Right,” his long-time lunchtime friend agreed, “which proves only one thing.”
“Stephenson King has not kept his election promise?”
“That, yes, and the fact that no administration has had positive effect on crime in had positive effect on crime in Saint Lucia.”
The man in the red shirt glowered. “So now you want Kenny to call King for crime talks? Is that it? You want him to help King? Never!
What about when Kenny suggested a special committee on crime? What about the time when. ..”
I butted in: “What does it matter who makes the first call? Gentlemen, don’t you see what’s happening even at this table? All the specious arguments in the world will not ameliorate the crime that’s killing us. Whether the murder rate is forty-two or forty-eight per year makes no difference whatsoever to the deceased and their relatives, their girlfriends, their kids and their wailing mamas. Or, for that matter, to the nation’s image overseas. Too many of us are turning up dead, with no arrests. Obviously, there is need for new thinking, for a united effort against a common enemy. Even the church has finally recognized that when opposing MPs turn on each other they encourage their respective supporters to do likewise. The killing must stop!”
The man in red was having none of that: “They promised to stop it and now they want Kenny to help them. No way!”
“Are you speaking for yourself or for Kenny?” I asked. “Are you saying Kenny cares less about saving lives than he does about scoring political points? You want us to believe Kenny’s not concerned about the killings, the robberies and so on?”
“Let Guy Mayers solve the crime!” said the yellow-eyed man in the red shirt and tie. Two days later, all hell broke loose when a Newsspin caller assured Timothy Poleon that the government’s press secretary had refused to send certain Tomas-related documents to the Soufriere MP, on the shaky premise that Mr Dalson was not qualified intellectually to make sense of their content. When a friend asked what I thought of the press secretary’s statement, I said: “If in fact all that came over the radio is valid, if it can be proved he said what he is accused of saying, then I think the prime minister should require him to apologize to Dalson, failing which he should be fired.”
But no sooner had the words left my mouth than I recalled the countless occasions when the opposition party’s PR man—a some-time pastor, I’m informed—had referred publicly to government ministers as criminals, convicts, incompetents and liars. The leader of the opposition had fingered the prime minister as a living bad example to kids seeking an excuse not to pursue higher education.
A tiny voice in my head redirected my thoughts: “Just because there are jerks on both sides of the political divide is no reason not to start out on the road never traveled—the road to a fresh start.” Which immediately brought me back to my original position: If all the government’s press secretary is accused of turns out to be true, then an example should be made of him. He should be booted out of his tax-funded bodyweight-boosting job for his demonstrated gross lack of respect for an MP, in the hope that the leader of the other party will join in the demonstrated effort to end the devil’s dialogue that for too long has plagued local politics.
I maintain that if our leaders cannot show respect for each other they have no right to expect their followers to address each other with civility. Hateful language was undeniably a major factor in the recent tragedy of Tucson, Arizona when a congresswoman sought to address commingled constituents in a supermarket car park.
In Saint Lucia hateful language is usually the trigger to deadly violence, an unforgivable demonstration of “disrespect” where local gangs are concerned, an inevitable prelude to murder.
Let us all endeavor no longer to be jerks, let us recognize that when for political purpose we refuse to do what is obviously the right thing—like uniting against crime—we make jerks of ourselves. Suicidal jerks.
With elections around the corner, we should all be especially careful that the dragons teeth we sow today do not tomorrow rise up as insatiable monsters determined to devour
us all—regardless of financial status, regardless
of our education, regardless of our political affiliations!