Maybe They’re Just an Asshole

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli

Maybe They’re Just an Asshole
DALL-E2 - "Rising above the jerks"
"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli." - Clemenza, The Godfather

Before diving into this week's thought bomb, I just wanted to say a quick thanks to everyone who's recently subscribed, bought me a coffee, or reached out to me. While I have always tried to write about things on my mind as a form of self-therapy, it's fascinating how often people comment that something "just resonated" with them.

What started as a random collection of thoughts back in February of 2020, readership has grown over 25% since this June, and still maintaining an 'open rate' of 65% weekly. Maybe it's time to start a tee-shirt side hustle (I mean, who doesn't want an "Own Your Shit" shirt or hoodie? :))

Thank you.

Shifting gears onto this week's post, I wanted to throw down some thoughts that percolated when a former colleague reached out to me earlier in the week. They were having an issue with a co-worker, and in every meeting, that person seemed to speak down to them. Dismissed every idea, interrupted them, and generally made them feel small.

While I often talk about the concepts of fostering environments of psychological safety and center myself on the fact that we all have icebergs, there sometimes is just a plain and simple truth that's right in front of you: that person is just an asshole.

I know that comment may even sound a bit asshole-ish, but admit it - you know them, everyone does. Robert Sutton, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford, has a fantastic book, The Asshole Survival Guide in which he has some excellent insights to those folks.

There are a lot of academic definitions, but here's how I define it: An asshole is someone who leaves us feeling demeaned, de-energized, disrespected, and/or oppressed. In other words, someone who makes you feel like dirt.
I would make a distinction between temporary and certified assholes, because all of us under the wrong conditions can be temporary assholes. I'm talking about somebody who is consistently this way, who consistently treats other people this way. I think it's more complicated than simply saying an asshole is someone who doesn't care about other people. In fact, some of them really do care — they want to make you feel hurt and upset, they take pleasure in it.

The critical thing to remember is not that the person is an asshole; it's how you respond to that asshole.

People are far less jerky, especially over food or coffee. Smile, be polite (don't be an asshole in return), empathize with them, forgive them, and ignore them. Could you even ask them to go for a walk/talk, grab a coffee, show empathy, and say, "the way you made me feel in that meeting was bad, was that intentional?" (assholes hate confrontation of their behavior and often turn to kittens). Don't do it over a video chat - get that person in real life.

Another reason I love trying to gain insight on behavior from leaders like Marcus Aurelius:

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.

Rise above it. You will quickly find that asshole will move on.

If you enjoy these posts, you can buy me a coffee ☕️, or if you'd rather keep up with my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter or keep reading my posts on this blog.

Forward Thinking

I just loved this video that resurfaced this week in my reading. In 1992, during a lecture at MIT, Steve Jobs was asked 'What's the most important thing that you personally learned at Apple?.'

His reaction after a long, thoughtful pause: 'I now take a longer term view on people; when I see something not done right, my first reaction is not to go fix it..'

Thought(s) of the week

Latest obsession

A silly one, but given the recent release of the iPhone 14 Pro with it's wacky-but-wild Dynamic Island, I've really been amused by developers who have thought of unique and interesting ways to use it.

First up, we have the fantastic Reddit app Apollo, which has implemented a micro "tamagotchi" that lives on the island.

And what has turned out to be a simple yet crazy fun game, "Hit The Island". Pong at it's best.

Here are a few of the articles and videos that resonated with me over the last week:

  • I like the vision of "The future of the office is the clubhouse" and the concept that 'most offices try to facilitate both deep work and in-person collaboration, but usually end up in a dystopian middle ground where neither really happens.' The solution that Foster proposes is that of 'the clubhouse' - 'to do deep work, stay at home or go to a coffee shop. To inject your day with in-person serendipity, come to the clubhouse' - More
  • File under complete and total geek (but if you're here for the tech stuff, you may like it) - Here is the "nerdlist," a list of passwords most likely to be used by those into geekdom (inspired by film and books, like 'TooManySecrets'). A fun list to check through with your password checkers - More
  • As if we didn't need more good news in 2022, "Google Deepmind Researcher Co-Authors Paper Saying AI Will Eliminate Humanity." This paper 'tries to think through how artificial intelligence could pose an existential risk to humanity by looking at how reward systems might be artificially constructed; with AI overseeing some important function could be incentivized to come up with cheating strategies to get its reward in ways that harm humanity.' Oh good, something new to keep me up at night - More
  • I loved this article on "How I Reconnected With My Mother Through Wordle." Everyone I know seems to be in some form of family text chat, their 'wordle circle,' and this post was a fantastic read on how a mother/daughter connected through it. If Wordle isn't the best thing that came out of the last few years, I don't know what is - More
  • By now, I'm sure you've read the "Patagonia Founder Gives Away the Company to Fight Climate Change." What I found particularly humorous is what ignited the idea: 'I was in Forbes magazine listed as a billionaire, which really, really pissed me off; I don't have $1 billion in the bank. I don't drive Lexuses.'. Love it. - More
  • Everyone knows of Queen Elizabeth II's passing, and plenty has been written about her life and legacy. But I found "The Cowboy and Queen Elizabeth" to be one of the most fascinating and endearing accounts of her friendship with an American horse trainer. His philosophy on training was that 'the animal is taught to see the rider as a member of its herd, rather than as a master'; and reading about their multi-decade relationship was touching - More
  • As I mentioned above, I am digging "Dynamic Island" on the iPhone 14 Pro. Talk about talking a hardware 'nit' on the notch, coupling it with some amazing software, and it suddenly has become one of the coolest features of the new phone. 'Dynamic Island is like a Head-Up Display (HUD) for your phone that defies normal touch user interface patterns like reachability. It's one of those features that looks intuitive enough as if it should have been there all along.' Or, simply - it's beautiful - More
  • Technology transformation, especially in large enterprises, can be difficult. In "What Silicon Valley 'Gets' about Software Engineers that Traditional Companies Do Not," the author articulates the problem nicely and that engineers should be treated as 'curious problem solvers, not mindless resources. A worthy read. - More
  • In another passing this week, "Fred Franzia, creator of Two Buck Chuck wine, dies at 79". While I've probably had too much of that wine, I never really knew the entire story of Franzia and his fight against the principle of 'truth-in-labeling' - which I found interesting. - More
  • The Steve Jobs Archive is a fascinating new site with various quotes and letters. As Matt Birchler points out, "I am Dependent on Everyone Else" was a particularly great one that points out that 'None of us survive on our own. We need each other, whether we want to admit it or not.' - More
  • As Halloween approaches, I figured I would throw in a wacky one: "A 17th-Century Vampire Grave Discovered in Poland of Skeleton with a Sickle Across Her Neck". 'A sickle was used by superstitious people at the time just in case the dead person they thought was a vampire came back to life; it would slice off their head when they tried to sit up' - More


I've long been a fan of Do Lectures and am excited to attend their in-person event, Do Wales 2023, next summer.

I thought it would be nice to wrap up this week with one of their classic talks from 2014 titled "Be Whoever You Want to Be"

Chasing your dreams is all about love. That’s it, love.

Be well. ✌🏻

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Jamie Larson