Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Am I?

Am I an asshole?  

The question has been wearing on me for a couple of days.  On new year's eve, I had a drunken conversation with a friend of mine and at one point I jokingly wondered aloud if I was asshole, to which she replied:  "You know I love you, Clint, but sometimes you can be an asshole." Wow.  I wasn't really expecting that kind of no-hesitation response but, okay, I guess that clears up any lingering doubt.  
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But what constitutes asshole-ish behavior, exactly?  Occasionally, I'm guilty of breaching the asshole boundary.  I can say some insensitive things and if I'm feeling randy, I can be almost ruthless (i.e. an offensive asshole) when talking religion with someone.  A couple of instances come to mind.  The first occurred about two weeks ago at the airport.  My wife and I were pulling into the arrivals terminal to park curbside and en route to the designated area, a taxicab driver blocked our lane (they have a separate lane) then proceeded to load a few passengers with little regard for the fact that he was breaking protocol and blocking the flow of traffic.  It really irritated me so I inched up close enough to his rear bumper to make loading his trunk difficult.  He glared at me, pointed at my bumper, then gestured for me to back off.  I gestured back, put the car in reverse, and gave him the space he needed but made it clear while doing so (via wild hand waving) that he needs to get the hell out of the way.  At the time, my behavior seemed appropriate and justified --- the cabbie was breaking the rules so it seemed prudent to let him know --- but was what he did really that big of deal?  And did it justify acting like an asshole?  In the grand scheme of things, a few minutes spent waiting is trivial.  But then again, what about principle?  Some people will take advantage of nearly any situation, cheat at the first opportunity, and ruthlessly exploit loopholes --- where does society draw the line?  Do you need someone to occasionally emerge as the asshole and let them know, in no uncertain terms, that they need to queue in the back of the taxicab line and not obstruct traffic?  Depending on my mood, I can vigorously defend each position.  

The second instance occurred over dinner about a week ago.  The conversation turned to religion after I made a couple of snide remarks about Catholicism and the taking of communion ("snack time!") that then dovetailed into a few earnest questions I had about Catholicism.  After my dinner mate tried to answer my questions, she then posed a few of her own:  What was my beef with Mormonism?  Could I, in a non-biased way, summarize and describe the tenets of Mormonism?  What was my religious background?  Do I believe in anything now?  (I'm not Mormon but grew up in Mormon suburbia and have read a fair amount of Mormonism so she seemed to think I was qualified to educate her on the basics of the Mormon faith.)  I realize religion and faith are very sensitive and personal topics --- a point I felt I emphasized repeatedly and diplomatically --- but I couldn't help but point out that religious moderates can't conveniently ignore and condemn the religious zealots because acknowledgement and respect of one (some?) faith(s) necessitates acknowledgement and respect of all faiths.  I insisted that my objection to religious faith isn't how religious people choose to explain the inexplicable or the way they spend their Sundays --- I really don't care --- but that a lot of religions are trying to make further inroads into the public sphere by trying to erode the barrier between church and state.  After much back-and-forth, the conversation eventually wound down to an uncomfortable and implied mutual respect for differing viewpoints.  I like to have conversations like this and am genuinely interested in understanding viewpoints different from mine and I didn't think anything I said or did during the discussion would qualify as asshole-ish but I left the dinner table feeling somewhat asshole-ish.  Is asserting one's view, especially if it may be offensive to another person's religious sensibilities, characteristically asshole-ish?   I'm not sure.  But I intend to investigate and reflect on what it means to be an asshole and whether I am one. 

I just downloaded Aaron James' "Assholes:  A Theory" onto my Kindle and I'm hopeful that in spite of the occasional asshole-ish lapse, I'm not, according to James's rubric, an unadulterated, unapologetic asshole. 

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