jump to navigation

Friday Philosophy – Jerks, Plain & Simple November 15, 2019

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
Tags: ,

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on social media by someone who had just encountered a jerk. You know, someone who is an arrogant, bullying, self-important cockwomble (*).

This is a cockwomble, made by Susan Widlake

The offended party had tweeted a link to the thread where the abuse had happened and I went and took a look. It’s not really that important in what manner the jerk was being a jerk, though in this case they were asking for free help that the original poster was giving, and when they did not get as much help as they felt entitled to, they became abusive to the person helping. Sadly, nothing new there.

But what did make me pause was that the original tweet that linked to this tale of the toss-pot ended with the line “Welcome to my world as a woman in I.T.” And I paused – but not for the obvious reason.

I went back and checked the thread to make sure I was right, that I had not missed anything. I hadn’t, not that I could see on the thread anyway.

At no point in this woman’s dealings with this jerk had anything been said about sex, gender, male, female, anything. This person asking for help was undoubtedly not a nice person, the speed with which they swapped from “please help me” through “You have to do more for me” and then on to a tirade of abuse was rapid. And it was nasty abuse – but none of it was sexist.

The woman had made a point that they received this sort of treatment because of their gender – but there was no sign of gender being part of this at all.  And that bothered me. It bothered me for three reasons.

  • I keep coming across people who immediately assume that if someone treats them badly, is offensive, does not like them, or is in any way a jerk towards them, it is because of whatever minority group they are part of. Sometimes sadly that is the case. However, in others it is not – but the offended person has stopped being able to discern that difference. At times I’ve suffered from bullying and being ignored in my own little way but I realized that I was being over sensitive and sometimes I was being ignored just because the person ignoring me ignored pretty much everyone, or was derogatory to everyone. It was nothing to do with my height.
  • Maybe because of that first point, where any issue is perceived as being due to an “..ism”, some people have developed an attitude that all people not in their minority group are against them. For example, I regularly come across the attitude of “all men are….”. I’ve been told to my face that all men think that women are not as good at programming as men. Well, you’re wrong. Not all men think like that. I told the person in question I did not hold that opinion and the reply was something like “well you’re about the only exception then!”. They were determined to hold a point of view in which it was not that there are still some sexist men about – but that all men were sexist, and rabidly so. That’s pretty annoying and it risks making people not want to help fight your corner.
  • I’ve had people say to me “I can’t say anything about X doing this wrong as I’ll only get accused of …ism” – and It’s occasionally been a worry for me. This can lead to a backlash where people get away with poor work or bad behaviour as no one wants to be labelled with an “…ism”

What worries me about this “cry wolf” scenario and the attitudes of “they are all going to be out to get you” is that it actually perpetuates the very thing we need to stand against. When I come across someone who is constantly, always citing all their interpersonal problems as being due to the minority they associate themselves with, I confess I thinking to myself “well, perhaps I’ll be a little wary of you, you seem to have issues here”. It’s like a chap I met who was adamant that every boss he had ever had was “a moron”. He’d had a lot of bosses and he could not accept that maybe, just maybe, at times perhaps the boss was not the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely should challenge behaviour that treats a group of people as inferior, just for being part of that group. We should not condone any “..ism”. We should all ask ourselves if we are being unconsciously prejudiced and, if so, work to stop that. But we should be wary of citing bigotry as a knee-jerk reaction or falling into the error of challenging sexism, racism etc with exactly the same attitude but just from the other side of the fence.

And I think part of this is recognising that sometimes, often, jerks are just jerks. There is no …ism. Let’s just call them out for being jerks. And if there is an …ism, we call them out for being absolute, utter jerks.


(*) cockwomble is a term that seems to be becoming more universally recognised. It just means someone who is a bit of an idiot, someone you don’t want to spend any more time with that you need. A Womble is a creature from UK kids TV in the 70’s and 80’s. They are made-up animals that wander around Wimbledon Common (a large park in London), tidying it up and making things out of the rubbish they find. Sue made this cockwomble out of a beany-bag womble and a beany-bag cockerel.


1. oraclebase - November 15, 2019


It’s a really difficult issue, because there is a lot of unconscious bias. I hate that term, but the sad fact it is a reality. I was recently in a values framework meeting and a specific person spoke up in favour of them, and I was gobsmacked, as the person in question didn’t live up to many of the values, but they were totally unaware of that fact. It’s hard to be objective about yourself and how your behaviour affects others.

I’ve also been in a #WIT meeting where someone told a story of something that happens to them regularly. I happened to know who they were talking about and I said I didn’t think this is an example of sexism. That guy does exactly the same to me. He’s not sexist. He’s a douchebag.

It’s really easy to frame things as being because of {insert reason}. Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes it’s not. The important thing is you have the values instilled in your company to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen, and deal with it when it does happen, so everyone knows what the score is. Sometimes, just hearing another person’s point of view is enough to make people act differently.

In terms of, “we can’t fire X because they are …”, I would say this is a failing of the company. If you don’t have a proper way to judge value in the company, and prove if someone is doing a good job or not, you can’t complain about not being able to fire someone… 🙂



mwidlake - November 15, 2019

Thanks for that Tim.

The last point about not being able to fire someone is taking the point I made about not being able to challenge someone to it’s far conclusion. I’ve been personally involved in 2 cases where someone needed to have their working situation changed (firing being one of the options) but there was reluctance due to fear of “…ism”s. In both cases it was resolved by something of a fudge, which disappointed me because it demonstrated that this fear was real. Was it a failing of the company? Partly. But it was also this knee-jerk reaction of accusation. Let’s face it, if someone accuses you (or your company) of being racists, sexist, religionist, whateverist, it’s mud that sticks.

oraclebase - November 15, 2019

Sure. I get the mud sticks argument, but we’ve also seen some high profile instances where once the initial outrage has died down the instigator has been shown to be a lying sack of shit. 🙂

if the values and systems are in place, the defence of any such allegation is simple. You think we sacked you because of this “ism”? Here’s the evidence that’s not true! Job done. Cancel Culture has become a meme, to the point where many people tune it out now…



2. I am DBA (@DBArunning) - November 15, 2019

The twitterism you refer to sounds straightforward enough and a misplaced sense of offence is never going to do anyone any favours. But as an aside, sometimes when you know people you know which way their jerk-off (!) is aimed even when it’s unsaid. I meet jerks (and it sometimes takes one to know one, I accept my own failings) that can be a jerk all-rounder and yet still have a specialist ism subject. They might be the person I take to task for an ism that might seem out of context to anyone that hasn’t had a previous directional dousing!

mwidlake - November 15, 2019

It’s a very valid point – sometimes prior experience lets you know that there is a specific aim by a specific jerk.

Just one little heart-warming tale of “…ism” jerks. Back in the mid 90’s I worked with a guy who was racist & sexist. And a devious b….d to boot. We did not get on for some reason I can’t put my finger on 🙂. He left, I think his managers eventually worked out what he was like. Unfortunately for him he joined the company my wife was at and she highlighted his sexism, which resulted in his contract not being extended. Even more unfortunate for him, his next role that he had landed, a couple of months later, was through an agent I knew and the agent called me up for an informal check on him. I told the agent this person had the technical skills he claimed (the question I was being asked)… but don’t have him work with women or ethnic minorities. He didn’t get that role. I felt really sorry that this guy spent a good chunk of time not earning that year. Not!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: