Do unto others part 4


At various points over the past eight months I have written about why people act like dicks. In three previous sermons, I have talked about forgetfulness, anger and selfishness as causes of dickish behavior. This time I want to talk about the fourth reason people act like dicks: because they want to.

When I was about fourteen years old, I came across a book by the British humorist and broadcaster, Stephen Potter. It was called The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanshp, or The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating. It was very British, very dry, very funny, and I loved it. It was all about how you could put people off, make them feel ill at ease and confused, and thus unable to play – whatever you were playing – at their best. It was a handbook on practical psychology of annoying people. In short, it was a manual on how to be a dick.

I read it with enthusiasm and bought the two sequels, One-upmanship and Lifemanship. Of course, I knew the books were humorous. Why, the very way Potter wrote them was off-putting, as if he, and every other reader but you, were in on some kind of private joke. What a perfect ploy! What a perfect example of being one up. The joke on me was that he was showing up the awful kind of games people play when they are playing games and holding them up to ridicule. I took it seriously. I thought it was a great idea.

So I proceeded to follow his advice and annoyed the crap out of people. But as I said, I was only fourteen. The best possible age to be a fourteen-karat dick.

Because at fourteen you don’t know anything. And even if you do know things, chances are no one is going to be interested. If you are into sports, there is a fair chance that someone will be better. If you are musical, it only helps if you have brought along your instrument, and even then someone has to ask you to play. In fact, the only way you can make yourself look good is by making someone else look bad. Or weak. Or stupid.

In short, by doing the exact kind of things that you would hate to have done to you.

One of the techniques Potter presents is ‘plonking.’ Plonking someone involves interrupting a speaker in order to make some kind of point. It usually takes the form of showing off that you know more about the subject than the speaker.

“Look at that gargoyle! I love that kind of…”

“Actually, that’s not a gargoyle, it’s a grotesque. It’s only a gargoyle if it’s a waterspout…”

Nowadays we might call that mansplaining, though I think the older term, plonking, is better, because it’s gender neutral. And trust me, anyone can do it to anyone.

Another example is to insert some useless detail into someone else’s story.

“We got back on Tuesday night…..”

“Actually, it was Wednesday. I remember because the papers hadn’t been delivered.”

Who cares? The listener? The teller? No one. Just the plonker who has to show he knows more. And, who, most importantly, has now taken over the story, whether it’s his story or not. And absolutely no one cares about the detail about the papers and they never will.

The reason for plonking is to steal the limelight from someone. To rain on their parade. To ‘one-up’ them. Incidentally, it was Stephen Potter who invented the term one-up.

In the case of the Gamesman, it’s someone who can’t win on their own merits and isn’t good enough (or brave enough) to cheat. Besides, cheating involves the risk of getting caught. The point of putting your opponent off is to not cheat, but win anyway.

There is a certain amount of Gamesmanship in professional soccer, where if you are tripped up, or even just fall over, you writhe around on the ground as if you were at death’s door or have a broken leg at the very least. This is often used as a way of getting a penalty or in any case stopping the flow of the game.

Golf is also a great sport for the Gamesman. Just as your opponent is lining up his shot, you clear your throat, and ask, “I’m not bothering you here, am I?”

Well, you weren’t, but now you are.

I’m sure you can think of many examples of this kind of thing.

Why would anyone do this shit?

I believe it’s because it’s the only way they can see themselves as winners – by making someone else look like a loser. It is the alpha male mentality I wrote about last week. But the thing is, life is not a contest with winners and losers. We all lose in the end – each and every one of us. So it really isn’t a matter of winning or losing, but of how you are playing the game, right now, this minute.

You will not get the job by pretending to know more than the interviewer.

You will not make friends by putting them down.

You will not get the girl/boy/other person by acting like an asshole to everyone around you.

You will never earn the respect and love of the people around you by being a jerk.

The prize you want is in front of you today: your life, lived well.


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