A number of years ago Paul Meier wrote a book titled Don’t Let the Jerks Get the Best of You. This famous psychiatrist is one of the co-founders of the Minirth-Meier Clinics. He approaches this problem of jerks in our world with thoughtfulness and sometimes lightheartedness. What is a jerk, anyway? Well, according to Meier, a good working definition is just simply someone being selfish. Taking that concept of a jerk a bit further, he explains that being a jerk means exhibiting any selfish thought or behavior that is ultimately harmful to someone or to some group.
The root of our selfish behavior is in the concept of entitlement. We hear a lot about entitlement these days. We feel that we entitled to something. When it comes to individuals, entitlement is talked about in the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet” (Ex. 20:17). Meier says with that in mind, entitlement when it’s full grown starts saying things like, “My friend’s wife is mine. I deserve her. I deserve his car. I deserve his house. In fact, I deserve everything.”
In his book, Meier breaks down the population into three categories of jerky behavior. Category number one is mild to moderate selfishness. In his evaluation, he says about 40% of the people fall into this category. Number two category is serious to acute selfishness. In this group, he says there are about 40% of the people, also. Category number three is the severe to sociopathic selfishness. Generally, about 10% of the population fits here. For those of you who are adding this up, you realize there is 10% more. What about these people? Meier says this 10% are people who have overcome or at least have learned to control nearly all their jerky tendencies, and we generally refer to them as mature adults.
I don’t know if the percentages hold true in your life, family, and circle of friends, but it does seem that some people are determined to be jerks and they work hard at it. It’s not a rewarding profession, for there are very few perks for being jerks. Most people don’t want to be around a jerk, and rarely do jerks contribute to making life better or even more enjoyable. The good news is that there is hope and the possibility of change.
In Scripture there is a man by the name of Zacchaeus (Luke 19), who virtually anybody who knows anything about the Bible knows about this little guy. He may be the number one example of someone who had been a real jerk most of his life. In fact, he was a professional jerk. He took advantage of everybody else for his own benefit. Lie, cheat, steal, misrepresent — he was a tax collector and in those days he could do almost anything in the name of taking care of himself and extracting whatever he wanted from people because he was a governmental official.
However, here is the reality: He came to know Jesus and Jesus went to his home and Jesus changed his life. Zacchaeus became a blessing to everyone around him. People who used to be his enemies and people of whom he had taken advantage were blessed by him. As you watch him, it seems as though he becomes one of those who arrived in the topmost category of mature adults. What happened to him? Here are three thoughts:
- He changed from, “What’s in it for me?” to, “What can I do for you?”
- He saw people as more important than money.
- He discovered you have to come down to walk with Jesus!
May we all do likewise.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Jim Futral