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I’m sure you’ve met a few in your life. Jerks are everywhere. They’re the ones who leave the empty toner cartridge in the copier for someone else to replace at your workplace. They’re the ones hogging the isle at the grocery store with their overloaded cart. They’re in your neighbourhood, letting their idiot dog bark outside when everyone else is trying to sleep. They’re drinking draft beer down at your local pub by the pitcher and playing all the music you hate on the jukebox. You might even have a few in your own family. No matter where you go there’s probably a jerk or two just lurking around—waiting to make life a bit shittier for everyone. This is unavoidable, as a certain number of subjects within any given cohort will turn out to be jerks. It’s the same with farts. Most will be uneventful and mild, even humorous, but there’s always a chance that the next one will ruin you day by turning out to be more than just innocent gas. Did I just compare people to flatulence? Yes, yes I did.

This is true even in the animal kingdom. For example, the robins that come into my yard to use the birdbath I’ve provided also figure they’re entitled to help themselves to my Saskatoon berry bushes as well. I work hard to maintain those bushes: pruning them, fertilizing them, watering them—all so that I might enjoy the literal fruits of my labour when those juicy, sweet berries ripen. But day after day those feathery little bastards take advantage of my generous nature by stealing my fruit. They don’t even have the decency to wait until they’re ripe. The little creeps seem to revel in taking the most under-developed ones first. Before flying away they often give me a look that says: “Thanks dummy. See you again tomorrow!”

So, how does the non-jerk avoid a true, dyed-in-the-wool jerk, so as not to be affected by their casual assholishness? Well, first it might help to identify exactly what a jerk is. Merriam-Webster defines a jerk as such: “an unlikable person; especially one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded.” That is certainly a succinct description, but it doesn’t encompass all of jerkdom. That’s because some jerks have learned how to cloak their shitty behaviour when it suits them. Outwardly, these non-obvious jerks can seem like decent people at first glance, but behind your back the jerk within is waiting. These are the people who are friendly to your face, but as soon as your back is turned they talk down about you or do other petty things that undermine your ability to go through life jerk-free.

Then there’s the atypical jerks. These are the people who don’t intend any overt harm, but none-the-less can be classified as jerks for all the other ways they manage to annoy those around them. I’m thinking about that friend who goes to the movies with you and then spends the whole time telling you what’s going to happen next because they already saw it the week before. Even though they’re ruining every plot turn for you, they just can’t seem to help themselves. Or how about the person in your household that tightens the lid on the Cheese Wiz so tight that you need the jaws of life to open it again when you want a cheesy snack? Nobody’s impressed with your lame feat of strength, Mr. Jerk.
So, now that we’ve defined what a jerk is and illustrated a few examples, how does one avoid them? Well, if they’re family, you’re pretty much screwed unless you’re willing to move far away from their area of influence. Depending how much of a jerk they are, this may involve a very long distance indeed. I hear Antarctica is rather balmy this time of year, Uncle Jerk.

For non-family jerks—that being the jerks you meet on the street every day— there’s one strategy that works nearly all of the time: Ignore them. Yes I know it’s hard, because exposure to jerkish behaviour often arouses a desire for symmetrical retaliation. Ultimately, though, this will only cause you to become that which you hate. Therefore, it is always good to keep in mind the words that a guy named Fred Nietzsche once said: “He who fights with jerks should look to it that he himself does not become a jerk. And if you gaze long into a jerk-abyss, the jerk-abyss also gazes into you.”

Words to live by…

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