Count to Ten: Then Act

April 3, 2006
Like most of you out there in reader-land, I am a human being. Well, maybe like all of you I guess.

Like most of you out there in reader-land, I am a human being. Well, maybe like all of you I guess. As such it is my right and my privilege to act like a real jerk from time to time. Sad to say, I have exercised that right on more than one occasion.

There are those who even see this business of acting like a jerk as being a right granted by our constitution and protected by our courts. These folks take great pains to exercise that right with an almost religious fervor. They have even elevated it to a fine art. Perhaps you have met someone like this.

The major problem with acting like a jerk is that it sidetracks a great many of the positive acts, actions, and activities which were undertaken prior to that moment by that person. Frankly, acting like a jerk wastes the time and energy of everyone concerned. It is my belief that this energy could be better employed elsewhere in positive ways by all of us as well as our organizations.

More than that, once you have acted like a jerk you have to devote an excessive amount of energy to dancing your way out of trouble. I don't know about you, but my skills as a dancer were never that great to begin with. As a matter of fact, they have only diminished with age.

I have developed a new philosophy to handle this problem in my life. My new philosophy is really quite simple. It is my fervent belief that it is much better to avoid falling into the muddy ditch at the side of the road than to have to work your way up and out of it. So it is that over the past few months I have attempted to break some new ground in the area of preemptive smartness. Or as my television hero Red Forman might say it, I have worked at avoiding a case of the dumb-ass.

As you might imagine, I am presented with numerous opportunities each week to do something really stupid. In some cases it could be a careless remark to a family member and at other times it might possibly be an interaction with a friend, client, or professional associate. I am never more than a heartbeat from my computer and its tie-in to the rest of the world.

Each of these holds the potential to become a fresh new opportunity to act like a jerk. Let me assure you that in my time I have taken advantage of more than one of these opportunities. I am what you might call a recovering dumb-ass.

Over the past several months I have worked to develop a totally new approach to avoiding the creation of personal stupid actions in the world. Each time someone angers me or presents me with the chance to get up on my high horse and pontificate about whatever the subject might be, I stop dead in my tracks. I then pause and mumble my new mantra to myself.

"...Don't be a dumb-ass --- Don't be a dumb-ass --- Don't be a dumb-ass..." This is my modern version of the old warning that your grandmother gave to you. Remember? When you find yourself getting mad, be sure to pause and count to ten before you do something stupid.

My version is a bit earthier, however. I find that it helps me to focus and thereby possibly stay out of trouble. Try it. You might find it saves you a whole lot of time and energy. By the way, don't tell my wife about this. She just thinks that I am quietly contemplating my navel on the other side of my office door.

Why, might you ask, am I barking up the tree of the eternal dumb-ass this week? Quite simply a friend of mine has fallen into that muddy ditch on the side of the road. I believe that he might even be guilty of attempting to do the right thing, but in the wrong manner. Even though he was probably acting with total sincerity, he made the mistake of indulging in a bit of public name calling.

While he did not mention the actual names of the players, the facts of the matter speak for themselves. This is what our friends in the world of the law call Res Ipsa Loquitur, which is to say, let the thing speak for itself. This is a legal principle often used in negligence cases where the act is so egregious that no further testimony is needed other than a presentation of the facts.

That is exactly what happened in this particular case. My friend did this thing without weighing the potential negative impact of what he perceived to be a positive action. I am writing this little treatise to let him know that there is life after dumb-ass. I am living proof of that.

There have been a couple of times over the past several years when I really screwed up. I wrote commentaries that were flat-out wrong. I wrote things about people that were hurtful, based upon flawed data. While I wrote them with the best of intentions, that excuse was of no consequence because the facts were wrong and my tone was insulting and spiteful.

In those cases, the cure for the disease of stupidity was a simple dose of honesty. I owned up to my error and created commentary that was totally apologetic in nature. Many people find it hard to accept responsibility for their actions. These people never come to accept the liability for their actions.

That is not just how I view these things. It is a belief that I have come to have as a result of the manner in which I have lived my life. It is my belief that as a writer I owe a special duty to the concepts of truth and honesty. That serves as the tether between my soul and the concept of integrity.

In each of those cases where I showed a public case of the dumb-ass to those of you out in reader-land, I felt that an apology was in order. In each of those cases, the apology was accepted. Just remember that an apology can never erase the impact of the words which caused the damage. Words once spoken or written can never be recovered.

Have you ever tried to put toothpaste back into the tube from whence it came? You cannot do it. Think about it my friends. When words leave your mouth and enter the free air of our great nation, they are subject to the interpretations placed upon them by the folks who hear them.

The same concept holds true when the written word leaves your brain, passes through your arms and hands to the keyboard on your computer and thence onto the screens of anyone who chooses to read your words. Whether the content is on-line or within the print media, the result is the same. There is a permanent record of your thoughts. Right or wrong, they are there for everyone to see.

Perhaps my associate was seeking to stimulate thought. Maybe he was merely writing to inform. You know, it might even be that he was writing to motivate. Each of these is a possibility. Whichever it was, his words have unleashed a very angry swarm of bees.

The anger of those bees is being directed to everyone in the immediate vicinity of my friend. Each of us now finds it necessary to devote an inordinate amount of time to addressing the issues which were thrown down in the print article he authored; much like ancient knights and gentlemen threw down their gauntlet to challenge someone to a duel.

My friends, sometimes a writer needs to seek the counsel of his friends and advisors. I truly understand this concept my friends. I really do. Last week's commentary on the battle for federal funding came about as a result of numerous drafts, lots of advice, and several trips to the corner where I muttered my "don't be a dumb-ass" mantra. What could have been a destructive piece became an informative, motivational bit of commentary.

There are probably 20 pieces of commentary that will never see the light of your computer screen. You will never read them. It is not that their message is lacking. It is just that I wrote them when I was angry or agitated. I wrote stupid things. I wrote hurtful things. Luckily under the terms of my "don't be a dumb-ass" approach to life, the numerous hurtful genies that I created were never released from the lamp of my computer.

Funny, just pounding out my frustrations often makes me feel better. Thankfully my inner circle of good buddies has helped me. It is my suggestion that each of you assemble a small inner circle of trusted associates. When I say small, make it one, two, or three. More than that and you get too many conflicting opinions. The potential for a release of your secret thoughts grows as the number of people who knows about them increases.

These must be people with whom you have interacted for at least a decade. It is imperative that they be your best buddies. These are the people who know where the skeletons are buried. Hell they might even have helped you with the burying ceremony. There are the folks I mean when I say that you should ask your friends for advice.

Let me close this visit with you by sharing a simple, philosophical thought. The furor surrounding my friend will pass. It always does. Much like the pain of birth, the pain of being a dumb-ass passes away with time. Although I never gave birth, I have been a dumb-ass.

It is just a shame that my friend did not ask for a bit of advice.

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