How to be a Jerk

Sometimes I can be a real jerk.

I am not proud of myself right now. I did something I find personally despicable and I can’t, for the life of me, understand why I did it. In a thoughtless moment, I responded to a situation in a callous manner. I treated another human being poorly.

Here’s the down-low; I was driving to work this past Saturday. It was a big day for myList; the first NBC broadcast of the IRONMAN World Championship, presented by myList, was about to be aired. Hundreds of thousands of people were going to see the broadcast and see the myList branding everywhere. As a result, we expected a significant traffic spike on our servers and I needed to be there to manage it with the rest of the development and product team.

It’s fair to say I was a little anxious. I had been working for two weeks to scale our infrastructure to handle the anticipated load surge. Should the spike in traffic cause us to crash, my neck was on the line. As Program Manager, successes belong to the team, but failures belong to me. I knew we had done all the right things, but I was still nervous. Had I planned accordingly? Had we failed to anticipate some variable? Were we ready?

All of these thoughts an anxieties were in my mind as I drove towards the Interstate. I pulled up to the light on Michigan and Orange Blossom Trail. My windows were down; it was a beautiful day, and I had the music playing lightly. I was in “work mode” and focused only on getting to the office.

I barely noticed when a homeless man started walking towards my car. I paused momentarily in my thoughts of work to note that he should have crossed the street at the cross walk instead of in the middle of the street. I looked down at the clock on my radio, noting the time. When I looked back up again, the homeless man was less than 10 feet from my car and angling directly towards me.

Stopped at a light in the ghetto. My windows were down. I should have realized that he was going to approach me and ask for money.

Annoyed, for no good reason, I looked at him and in a commanding, authoritative, voice, I commanded him to “keep on walking.”

Without missing a beat, the homeless man sighed, looked away, and started shuffling to the front of my car to finish crossing the street. I was actually proud of myself for about three seconds. I was strong and in command. I said exactly what I felt and it created the desirable result; the man had stopped his approach and moved way.

About ten seconds later, as I was starting to drive through the intersection, it hit me. I had just treated another human being like garbage. I had shown a despicable and callous disregard for someone simply because he had interrupted my thoughts of work. For a brief moment, I did not see a fellow human, but something less.

This man was at the bottom – the rock bottom. For whatever reason, his existence had been reduced to relying on the compassion of strangers to make ends meet. He was once a proud man, I am sure. He held a job. Had a family. Had a life. And now, here he was, in threadbare clothes begging for change on a Saturday afternoon.

And I gave him only contempt.

I am ashamed of myself. The fact that I do give spare change to homeless people when I have it means nothing. In this case, I was a cad. There is a courage, grace, and bravery in begging. This man did not judge me for saying no, but I judged him for asking. He just sighed and walked away.

And I, not he, was left the lesser man.

2 Responses to “How to be a Jerk”

  1. We are all jerks sometimes. 😦 You are better than that one moment in time; and you need only forgive yourself.

  2. Reading this brought tears to my eyes.

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