Why We Should Befriend Jerks

Photo: nasrulekrom

I’ve known a number of people in my life who quite frankly haven’t exhibit the most admirable behavior much of the time. Other friends and family members have sometimes asked me why I’ve remained friends with them, or simply marvel in continued surprise that I have. I often find myself having to justify these friendships not just with my other friends and family but also with myself.

One of my friends is a rule breaker. When he has a goal, he often rationalizes why certain rules simply don’t apply to him so that accomplishing it becomes easier, often painting himself as modern-day Robin Hood and viewing himself as virtuous and clever because he finds ways to take short cuts. But he’s also charismatic, funny, and intensely loyal to his friends. He lacks good judgment (a fault to which even he readily admits), but he genuinely cares about other people and has never, to my knowledge, harmed anyone on purpose.

My other friend, in contrast, has frequently been purposely insensitive. Yet his insensitivity has always arisen from his penchant for brutal honesty (coupled, frankly, with a narcissistic streak). And while he has definitely caused harm on purpose, it’s always been by speaking harsh truths others have declined to acknowledge. Or for the purpose of being funny—which he is.

I’ve been active and forthright in criticizing both of my friends for their boorish behavior. Yet I’ve ended my friendships with neither of them. Why? Partly because I have a shared history with each of them. Partly because, despite their negative qualities, I still like them both immensely.

Who doesn’t have negative qualities? Who, besides possibly a true psychopath, is only bad? Human beings are complex. All of us have selfish and selfless impulses. Few, if any of us manage ourselves well all the time or in all circumstances. We’re all works in progress. If we required our friends to be perfect, we’d not only be hypocrites but also quite lonely.

Nor finally do I believe we’re responsible for only working on ourselves. If for no other reason than that the behavior of others affects us and those we love, we all have a responsibility to help other people learn to behave in a way that contributes to rather than subtracts from the good of us all.

But who influences us the most? The people who are the closest to us. The people whom we care most about and who care the most about us. The people we most admire. So why do I remain friends with scoundrels? Because even a scoundrel can love his mother. And be fun. And do good things. And because I believe that my life—if I live it well—can have a beneficial influence over everyone in it. My two friends consistently remind me of who I don’t want to be and constantly inspire me to strive to be a better person—as well as represent the people I most hope to influence in a positive way. Of what use is being a positive role model for people who already know not to take larcenous short cuts or deliberately push other people’s buttons merely to get a rise out of them? If I’m genuinely interested in making a contribution to the world, why would I start anywhere but with my own circle?

Because if I don’t care to inspire my two friends to become their better selves, who will? A Buddha isn’t someone who spends all his time meditating in a cave. He’s a person who cares so much about other people that he boldly thrusts himself into the heart of society’s troubles, rolls up his sleeves, and gets to work. Certainly I’d rather surround myself with only the righteous and have friends who only have qualities I admire. But what good is a doctor to someone who isn’t ill?

Next Week: How To Inoculate Children Against Peer Pressure

16 comments to Why We Should Befriend Jerks

  • sam

    Very interesting post and will give me a lot to think about during the next week.

    It is important to try to find the good in all people, even if it is hard.

    Your process sounds much like forgiveness, though I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Just like forgiveness, I am guessing you don’t do it for them, you maintain your relationships with these friends because they add value to your own life.

    As always, thank you for your perspective on life.

  • Great post, Alex!

    Associate with only those people who think exactly like you, and you’ll be so bored you’ll wish you would’ve brought something to color.

    There’s a wonderful expression that sums this up, I think: “We only touch but in spots.”

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  • Amy

    Hmm … A friend of mine of over 20 years is probably the most negative person I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve supported him emotionally and financially many times when he was having hard times. This past year I finally said to myself … enough … I couldn’t take the negativity any more. I feel bad when I think of the great times we had together, but I feel good now not feeling as if I have to take care of him when I know he really can take care of himself … or … chose not to. It’s a fine line to walk.

  • JA

    “Have no friends not equal to yourself”—Confucius

  • melodee

    And what about friends or family members who have cheated or defrauded you? Crude, rude or thoughtless is one thing but dishonest is another.

    Melodee: Judgment must always be employed. Some jerky behavior does require an ending of the relationship. You might read this: Crazy Makers.

    Alex

  • molly

    Interesting post. I can’t help but feel as though your position is slightly ego driven as well as maybe a little codependent….? I’m not a doctor, nor a Buddha, but I’ve had my fair share of friends whose behavior I’ve had to explain, ignore, defend and then ultimately abandon. Those exits were often painful and arduous because of my interest, like yours, of loyalty and history. I can say assuredly however, that my reasons for staying often deeply rooted in childhood patterns which were often toxic. Being an adult means choosing health, no matter how challenging. Your dilemma sounds as though you’re possibly nursing some old wounds. I hope it works out for you. If nothing rose, you have a loving heart.

  • Katie Cozad

    Love. Love. Love this one!!! Couldn’t agree more. Also my “jerk” friends tend to teach me about how to be easy going, funny, and to relax : )
    Thank you for sharing!

  • Francesca

    As physician it is understandable that you help people irregardless of their faults but as ordinary folk normally give people/friend the benefit of the doubt 2 or 3 times, after that it’s adios amigo, life is too short and there are others more deserving of our sincere friendship.

  • John Slomski

    People who “definitely cause harm on purpose” are toxic and should be abandoned unless 1) they don’t do this very often and/or 2) they use good judgement in picking targets. There are huge differences in the various faults that people have, but my definition of evil is the gratuitous infliction of harm.

  • Maybe its a guy thing, but as for me, I am so over jerks. I want to surround myself with people who fill me with inspiration, or are just plain fun to be with. (Family excluded, cause we are kind of stuck with them). I have had a few female friends that I had to let go of the relationships because they were jerks in a sense. It was all about them all the time. They just wanted me to listen to their problems and never let me vent mine. Or they were just draining my energy. I have made some new friends lately that are more considerate and we have been having fun. I do not look back and am happier for it.

  • Your sentence: Who influences us the most? brings to mind my wise grandmother Anna who taught me at a very early age: Be careful who you choose as friends; If your friend limps, soon you will limp too.

    Thanks for bringing her memory alive Alex! with your post.

    Giselle M. Massi

    http://www.gisellemassi.com

  • JA

    Humans hold life-generating (conscious) or life-destroying (unconscious) energy. Anyone you associate with becomes apart of your energy field. Love can only exist between equals.

  • I struggle with this a lot. I have friends who don’t share my values, and it can be difficult to watch them make choices I would not agree with. The best thing I can do is to keep most of them as more casual friends, avoiding high levels of emotional intimacy with them. I used to “break up” with people, now I find it is easier to let them naturally fade away. That way, I haven’t burned my bridge, and can still enjoy them in the context that is enjoyable, and not be a part of the rest. I agree though, there are many times when it is more healthy to walk away IF you are too close and getting burned or feeling disturbed about the person’s behavior towards others.

  • Francesca McAndrew

    As to Chris’s comments, I have found it difficult to extricate myself without drama from friends who have proven themselves to be insincere and disloyal and to whom I no longer wish to spend time with. It seems having a casual relationship is no longer possible, at least this has been my experience. We moved to a new place and have met many new people, at first we jumped in head first and embarrassed people openly now after some unpleasant experiences we are far more cautious about getting close, pain avoidance is in order now. Real friends are rare. I would welcome advice from others who have been down this road.

  • JA

    Surround yourself around “like-minded” people and healthy relationships. When you’re awake, it will be impossible to tolerate low vibrational environments or toxic relationships any longer.

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