Difficult Question


Today I want to try to answer the question that really started me writing this blog in the first place. It all happened like this.

I was sitting in a pub – more of a beer shop, really – with my buddy, discussing art as we always did, and morality, which we often did. I was talking about the necessity of not being a dick, when the fellow at the table next to ours said, “Excuse me. I couldn’t help overhearing what you have been saying, and it’s very interesting. But what if I want to be a dick?”

And that, of course, is the Difficult Question. This was my answer:

Well, first of all, let me say, if you want to be a dick, go right ahead. Your call. I can’t stop you. But.

There are consequences to being a dick. And these consequences fall into two types: social consequences and personal consequences. Let’s start with the social ones.

The most obvious reason not to be a dick is that it upsets people. In fact, that’s almost the definition of a dick: someone who pointlessly, deliberately, upsets people. In extreme cases, people get angry. That’s a second good reason not to do it. And because people get upset, get angry, any kind of real communication (by which I don’t mean screaming at each other) gets shut down. All this anger and shouting leads to distrust. The result of this, overall, is to make society a worse place.  This is not good because the things that society gives us like food, shelter, friendship, family, medicine, and video games only happen when we cooperate. Every single thing we have as a society we have because of cooperation. In fact, I would say that if you really, really want society to fall apart, get as many people as possible to start acting like dicks.

But maybe you seriously don’t care if society falls apart. Leaving aside that this would certainly end in your death, let’s look at the reasons that being a dick is bad for you directly.

If you continually act like a dick, or if you just act like a dick one time too many, people will not like you. Your friends will stop talking to you and avoid you. You’ll be on your own. And even if you think you would rather be alone, if you are like most people, you’ll just end up feeling like a jerk for having been nasty to people whom you like. But in any case, you’ll miss out on things. Maybe small things like a good party or a quiet night at the pub, but maybe important things, like a good job offer. Because, let’s face it, nobody is going to recommend you for a job if they know the prospective employer is going to come back and say, “Why did you send me that asshole? He’s a total dick!” And if you have a job, chances are your boss is eventually going to get fed up with you being a pain in the backside, so you won’t have it for long.

Oh, you’re going to be self-employed? Good luck with that if nobody wants to pay for your services because you are such an obnoxious sod.

And then there is the time you go a little too far and somebody pokes you in the snoot. At best you’ll be in a fight, at worse you’ll get the crap beaten out of you. And get this: no one will sympathize. Because you alienated all of your friends, remember? You don’t have to be a dick all the time for this to happen, either. Just once too often is enough.

And just what do you get out of acting like a dick anyway? A few minutes feeling like you got one over on somebody? For sake of annoying people you do something that you personally wouldn’t like? What kind of a jerk are you anyway, that you so need to show off that you can put people down? Is your ego that puny?

Because that’s all anybody ever gets out of being a dick. A temporary feeling of superiority. You got away with being rude. By showing that you can do something that you would never accept yourself, you have shown that the rules of human interactions don’t apply to you.

And that’s it really. The only possible reason I can see for being a dick is that you think that you are somehow better than everyone else. That’s why people steal: because they think they deserve something someone else has. That’s why people drive down the wrong lane and cut in front of traffic, because they are more important than the other drivers, and they need to get somewhere faster than those clowns. That’s why they don’t pay for their round in the pub: everyone should be happy to pay for their company. That’s why they are racists. That’s why they are misogynists. That’s why they are murderers. They’re different. They’re better. They get to be dicks whenever they want.

But the truth is, none of us is better than the rest. We are all equally good and equally bad, equally worthy and equally worthless. Being human is a struggle to find a balance between the desire to look after ourselves and the need to cooperate. Because, the simple truth is, we can’t survive on our own, neither physically nor emotionally.

So, when the fellow in the bar asked what he should do, if he wanted to be a dick, I answered, fight it. And if you lose out to your own ego; go ahead; be a dick. Just remember that not only will you pay for it, so will all the rest of us.

So, please, for all our sakes, don’t be a dick.


The image is by N.C. Wyeth: Robin Hood and Little John fighting over who gets to crosss the footbridge first. I loved this book as a kid, especially Wyeth’s illustrations. I thought Robin and Little John were the best! Which just goes to show, even heroes can be dicks.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s