Tag Archives: Jer

Loving Assholes

I’m a confirmed idiot.  After all, one time at a friend’s house I went to the bathroom and accidentally urinated entirely in my friend’s trash can (By the way, I was completely sober).

However, I am also awesome in this specific way:  I value assholes.

Assholes, of course, can just be jerks who just enjoy hurting other people or don’t care when they do.  These people are obnoxious.  Nobody likes them, and for that reason, most of us are scared shitless at the idea of being thought of as one.

But I enjoy people who are willing to risk being mistaken for a jerk.  I appreciate those willing to potentially hurt the other person for that person’s sake.  They are willing to risk the relationship.  They are willing to make you cry if it makes you better.  I call them loving assholes.

Alicia took this picture when we were in Sri Lanka last summer.  It is very related to this post (it is not related to this pose).

Alicia took this picture when we were in Sri Lanka last summer. We think it looks cool.  It is also very related to this post (it is not related to this post).

Loving assholes are quite possibly the most important type of close friend to have in your life.  They are valuable precisely because they care more about you than about being in your life.  They call you out when you are being mean to your wife.  They let you know your fly is down.  They insist that you apologize to your kids when you have done something wrong.  They stop you from buying that last round of shots.  If your inner-circle consists of yes-men or yes-women, you risk becoming abusive; nobody is above it.  We can all fall into habits of being, for example, short-tempered, verbally abusive, or generally unkind towards the people we love.  If nobody in your life is a loving asshole, than nobody will call you out.

I am a loving asshole.  Consider this example:  it was two months before my friends wedding and I was his best man.  I became increasingly concerned about my friend’s marriage.  After a few cautions, I reached the point that I could not in all honesty support their marriage and I stepped down as best-man.  I risked my entire relationship with my friend in an attempt to help him.

Artists easily shoot themselves in the foot by not seeking out honest feedback.   In college, a buddy of mine wrote and directed a six hour play and had his friends perform it.  I saw it, the first 1.5 hours was pretty good, but on the whole it was awful.  It tied up his friends lives for a big chunk of their senior year, and nobody had the heart to tell him what they thought.

To the extent that I am a good writer today is the same extent to which I have managed to cultivate honest feedback.  I reccomend this loving-asshole-cultivation technique in particular: marry one of them.  I can count on Alicia to give me an honest and frank appraisal on, for instance, this post.  I see it now, “It was good.  You probably said ‘asshole’ too often.  You probably could have come off as slightly less self-congratulatory.  I thought it was hilarious when you peed in Jim’s trash can.”

Of course, if artists do not cultivate an inner-circle of loving assholes, all they risk is being a bad artist.  If you or I do not have any loving-assholes as friends, you risk being a bad person.

Of course, I am not alone in being a loving asshole.  There are millions of us, and we are asshole-ish to different degrees and in different varieties.  However, I doubt that truly loving assholes are much more than 5% of the population (total guess).

One loving asshole that comes to mind was Jesus.  Throughout the gospels, Jesus constantly ‘sticks it’ to the pharisees and others.  One example is Matthew 15: 1-7a.

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”  Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!  Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.” (NIV)

The Pharisees prided themselves on being extra-devoted to the Law.  This would have really pissed them off.  In fact, we know it did.  Two verses later the disciples warned Jesus, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”  Jesus replies, “Leave them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.”

Of course, Jesus can get away with that sort of innapropriate behavior because he is all-knowing and what not.  You and I should emulate Jesus in the other, Philippians Christ hymn sort of way; by being really really humble.  But being really humble means being willing to forsake your clean image as a good person and occasionally that might mean making someone sad.

Fortunately, the world is hungry for honest feedback.  Instead of feeling sad, we often feel invigorated and closer than ever when we confront someone out of love.  I was inspired to write this post because I have recently started some life-coaching sessions with an individual who simply wants to learn how to get better at making conversation.  She is eager for some frank appraisal and discussion.  It’s inspiring to see.

And it makes me want to ask my reader’s, who do you need to be a loving-asshole for today?

4 quick tips on being a loving asshole:

  • Only be a loving asshole, generally, with people you know well. You can’t speak into someone’s life if you do not know what you are talking bout.  
  • Take responsibility for your very good friends.  Know when it is likely that nobody will speak certain truths into someone’s life unless you do.  
  • When you confront as a loving asshole, you do so for the other person’s sake.  Any defensiveness on your part when they push back (and they likely will), and you are just an asshole.
  • Loving assholes are only loving assholes occasionally.  Usually, they are just loving.  Don’t go overboard.

This post is #2 in my “I’m a Confirmed Idiot” series. You see, sometimes I have thoughts worth sharing, but I don’t share them because they are in various ways self-congratulatory.  If subtexts had vocal chords they might scream, “See!  Aren’t I great?”  Don’t get me wrong.  That’s a wonderful message which the world needs to hear.  It is just problematic when it is so obviously preached by me.  So sometimes I avoid ideas and messages worth sharing, things I believe in, that may help people, in the pursuit of looking like a nice guy.  So, in the “I’m a Confirmed Idiot” series, I am requiring myself to, before getting into obviously self-congratulatory prose, start with a formulation in which I confess an entirely true and unrelated personal epic fail.   This frees me to make my points with righteous passion, holding nothing back, for, as it says in Leviticus 27:35, “If you are humble for a moment, feast on the joy that comes from being full of yourself the rest of the time.”  Look it up; it’s in the Bible.  

Incidentally, this is also #2 in my series “Old Jer Ideas” and remarkably similar to my first post.  

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My Segment on the Dr. Drew Show

If I had a bucket list, disagreeing with Anderson Cooper on national television would be on it.  And I would be crossing it off!

A few weeks ago, a man got pushed onto the tracks of a New York subway station.  Someone managed to take the picture below, which wound up on the cover of the Post.  You probably saw it.

121204_BEH_NYpostcover.jpg.CROP.article920-large

The next day, in the context of a national bitch session in which America heaped blame on bystanders for their inaction (including the cameraman) and their own culture for producing a population of cowards, I was asked to join a “panel of heroes” on the Dr. Drew show on HLN, a CNN sister channel, to talk about why we acted in the face of danger when others did not.  What was our awesome sauce?  Why did I reach out and grab the guy’s hand, who was getting shocked by the third rail, when I knew I could die?  (Checkout the 15 minutes of fame tab above, which I suppose now is my 15.5 minutes of fame, if you don’t know what I am talking about.)

Sorry it has taken a long time to post the video clip of my interview.  I know many of you have been waiting.  My segment is only 2 minutes and starts 12.5 minutes in. I was told the discussion with Anderson Cooper went long and they lost my feed for second.  But for what it’s worth:

While I was super pleased to be on the show and enjoyed myself, I was frustrated that I did not get a chance to share a couple of important points, especially when I felt like we were all living in a fun little fantasy.  While Cooper was right on some things, and the conversation was in many ways more substantive than I have come to expect from cable news, he is completely wrong about wider culture.  It is ludicrous to think that emergency situations are some magical prism in which our true character is revealed.  Keeping Your Head is a specific skill that is cultivated through practice.  Most of us have little.

Instead, we do what we are trained to do. The modern human, generally, is good at whipping out phones and taking pictures. We usually have no clue what to do in pressure situations.  A couple reasons might be that our lives include sitting in cubicles and exclude panicked flight from saber-toothed tigers.  But, when the modern human does have a clue (read soldiers, fireman, police officer, etc.), we almost always act bravely.

After I grabbed the guy on the subway and it was caught on film, everyone in my life was calling me a hero, and it was obnoxiously irrefutable that I was one.  I was uncomfortable with it, it made me reflect, and I came to a startlingly life-affirming conclusion that I have blogged about previously.  Here is the elevator speech:

We are a brave and caring species: you, me, pretty much everybody.  I am the same philosophizing-goofball I was when I was waiting anxiously for the train.  My actions says something about all of us, about average people.  We rise to occasions.  It would be absurd to think, for example, that the folks on flight 93, which crashed in PA on 9/11, who acted way braver than me, were by some fluke of travel planning in the top 1% of brave people in the country, or even the top 10% or 30%, and that this flight full of super duper heroes happened to be one that was hijacked. Nah.  The folks who stormed the cockpit on flight 93 were most likely a swath of regular folks.  This tells me that the average Joe can be counted on to be brave and is most likely capable of incredible human kindnesses.”

Famous psychologist and Stanford proffessor Phillip Zimbardo agrees.  He writes in  “The Banality of Heroism”:

The idea of the banality of heroism debunks the myth of the “heroic elect,”…[which ascribes] very rare personal characteristics to people who do something special—to see them as superhuman, practically beyond comparison to the rest of us.

But if incredible bravery is normal, why are we so blind to it?  Why did the country roundly condemn the bystanders who let the man die on the subway tracks?  Good question.  I’ll blog about that next time, but I’ll say this much: What struck me as I listened to Anderson Cooper and Dr. Drew talk before I went on the air is that negative news and looking down on others seems to serve an important social function that I had been reading about in Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis.  Namely, gossiping about what’s wrong with other people helps us bond to the people that we gossip with.

More later…

Oh…and here is a picture of Alicia and I at a little shin-dig that happened 20 blocks away from our house.  Thank you Derek Schwabe for getting us tickets!

Alicia and I at Obama’s 2nd Innagural.

Jer and Alicia Clifton at Obama’s 2nd inaugural, 2013


My Finest Hour

Some friends of mine have an incredibly cute 2 year old son.  In fact, he’s got a talent agent, and marketing people want to use him in super duper cute kiddy commercials.  Being good, conscienteous parents, my friends are a little worried about scarring or frightening their boy.  These are undoubtedly legitimate feelings, but I want to reassure them: a tear or two is well worth being able to do what I am now doing right now!

Jer in Taiwanese Huggies Commercial, 1987

Jer in Taiwanese Huggies commercial, 1987

I was an objectively cute kid.  I’m sure you readers out there think that you were cute, I am sure your mothers agreed, but were you Mr. Huggies Taiwan, 1987?  I didn’t think so.  That is because they only take the best of the best…which is me, in case that was not clear.

Also please note:

  • The finger in the belly button.  
  • The red dotted box drawing your attention to the extra-fluffy crotch portion.