When did Americans become so fond of dicks? No, not that kind. I mean the loud, obnoxious, narcissistic “I just tell it like it is” dicks. Why are we impressed by people who have no control over their inner children and no regard for anyone else? When did we start to think it was cool to be a jackass?
Every day something comes up to bring this point home – particularly in this pre-election season. Monumental baby Donald Trump is the darling of the GOP. Why? “Because he says what he thinks.” “He’s not like the other politicians.” Do they care what he thinks, whether he has ideas about anything? Apparently not – although if he said he didn’t believe in God, his pole numbers would sink like the Titanic. Mark Cuban, the billionaire who owns some sports team or another, said as much yesterday. Cuban likes his moxie no matter what’s behind it.
Before Trump there was the huge (and I do mean HUGE) bully, Chris Christie. I’m sure I would hate New Jersey if he’s the kind of guy that turns their collective cranks. Calling people stupid, telling them to sit down and shut up is not being a leader or no-nonsense or direct, it is being a dick. Christie is a dick, Trump is a dick. the guy in your office who seems to always be screaming at someone is a dick. And some large number of Americans think that’s OK.
Directness vs. dickiness is the stumbling point. You know what direct is? It’s telling someone in clear, unequivocal terms what you think or want without attacking them personally, without calling them names and without bellowing at the top of your lungs. For example, if you’re usually the first one to yell “Fuck you!” you are not direct. In fact, that word, fuck, is one to be used very sparingly. It’s the difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Assertiveness doesn’t require you to destroy a person’s dignity to make your point. It means that if you’re wrong, you’ll admit it.
OK, OK, I come from Seattle, which means I have an advanced degree in passive-aggressiveness and emotion-stuffing. I’ll own that. I’ll also own that, generally, Seattleites don’t need to beat other people up to feel good about themselves and they only pop off when thoroughly provoked.
There’s this thing called “Seattle nice” that drives a lot of people crazy. Seattle nice is the somewhat superficial “Have a nice day” way that Seattleites interact on a day-to-day basis. It’s not genuine in the sense that everyone you meet doesn’t really want to be your best friend. It is genuine in the sense that everyone is trying to make each interaction easy and – dare I say it – pleasant. Sarcastic remarks and brawls aren’t the order of the day. When they happen, they need to be warranted.
I once had a roommate in New York who was supposed to spend a summer in Seattle. He made it about three weeks. When I asked him what happened he said, “I was in a New York state of mind and they were in a Seattle state of mind.” While I appreciated the Billy Joel reference, I knew the answer was probably much simpler than that. He was a dick and they weren’t having it.
I don’t always like the measured evasiveness of politicians any more than anyone else. It’s frustrating. But that is how the system works. It’s about schmoozing and getting people to go along with you. You can’t pop off to a colleague, call him or her a moron or a loser or denigrate his war record and expect him to work with you on anything. Would you? Would you even speak to someone who blasted and berated you on a regular basis if it wasn’t absolutely necessary? If so, you have a thicker skin than I do. (Seattleite, you know.)
Direct I can appreciate. Despite my nondirect roots, I try to be as direct as possible – and as civil. It works pretty well for me. Today my barista gave me an extra shot in my latte because I’m a nice guy and I always treat her well. It’s not a new car, but I bet she doesn’t do that for dicks. On the job people do things for me because they like me and, again, I treat them well.
By now those of you who are old enough to remember it, are channeling Rodney King saying, “Can’t we just get along?” All right. But can’t we? Do we have to admire and aspire to the lowest level of interaction?
It’s not a sign of weakness to show a little respect to your fellow men and women. It’s not a sign of weakness to stop and think about how your words are going to land before you speak. It is mature and civil. Basically, it’s the difference between being an adult and being the brat throwing a tantrum at Safeway.