As I was walking back to the table with my drink, another customer bumped into me and spilled coffee onto my jacket. I stood there stunned for a moment with a “Wow, did you really just do that?” face while the other customer walked away without even saying sorry. When I sat down to join my friend, I whispered the following words:
“Did you see that? Worthless fucking sack of shit. What an asshole.”
As I was wiping the coffee off of my jacket with a napkin, I took some time to think about what I had just said. The more I thought about it, the more “worthless sack of shit” and “asshole” seemed like unwarranted overreactions. I realized I had said those things not because I actually believed the stranger to be an asshole, but because I was pissed off, mostly at having coffee on my jacket. It’s not like he walked up to me, slapped the drink out of my hand and yelled, “Yeah, fuck you and your drink, you jacket-wearing, coffee-drinking prick!” while giving me the finger. It was a simple accident and maybe he didn’t even realize what he had done. Because of this, it was unwarranted for me to make those criticisms.
Looking back, I was the real asshole for making such a harsh remark about someone I didn’t know at all. I mean, that was somebody’s son for Christ’s sake. But then again, so were the other people involved. My friend was sort of an asshole for agreeing with me just because it was easier than calling me out on my behavior. The stranger was an asshole for bumping into me, spilling my coffee and not saying sorry.
But to the stranger, I was probably the asshole, standing around in a coffee shop getting in people’s way when they’re busy. Maybe he was late to a phone interview, or had to finish a paper in 15 minutes. I wouldn’t have known.
I see these situations happening often. And I’m not talking about big incidents where someone is objectively being an asshole on purpose, such as when someone scratches your car and only pretends to write down their phone number on a sticky note so other people won’t judge. In this situation, scratching the car is an understandable accident but not leaving the number is what makes the person an objective asshole. I’m talking about microaggressions resulting from mostly accidental and unpleasant situations, or in other words, just being rude.
Of course, everyone could just be responsible and think about other people’s well-being 24/7, but this is unrealistic considering everyone’s busy lives. We’d rather take the easy way out and label someone as an asshole instead of trying to understand where the other person is coming from or trying to get an apology. In fact, calling someone an asshole seems to have become the normal response to any unpleasant social interaction. Someone’s walking too slowly in front of you? What an asshole. A guy doesn’t text back immediately? What an asshole. Group project member not carrying his weight? What an asshole. Even people who try their hardest to be polite are seen as being “fake af.” What an asshole. You’ve probably done a lot of these things too. Even just calling someone an asshole makes you an asshole. There’s no avoiding it. The world’s just one big circle of people being assholes to each other.
We’re all stressed out students with our own deadlines, projects, jobs and social lives. It’s no wonder why we can’t afford to be polite and respectful all the time, but there’s a strange sense of asshole-camaraderie in knowing that we’re all dicks every once in awhile, sometimes without realizing it. It’s like a spin on the old saying, “If everyone is special, then no one is.” If everyone is an asshole, then no one is. I’m not saying that if people go around being assholes all the time then things will be more bearable. It won’t, and people will still be just as hurt regardless. But understanding that everyone’s an asshole from time to time may help us not take it personally when we’re offended, not feel as bad when we hurt someone’s feelings and help us see others, especially strangers, not defined by single isolated actions but as actual people with their own qualities and flaws.
We should embrace being an asshole from time to time as a part of who we are and not try to hide it. Because intentionally or unintentionally, everyone ends up hurting others. We should be open and honest about the things that piss us off in our daily lives, and not be embarrassed or feel bad about calling someone out, in hopes of creating more empathy and mutual respect.
Guy who spilled coffee onto my jacket, if you’re reading this I want you to know you’re still an asshole, but that’s OK. And I’m not sorry I called you a worthless fucking sack of shit. Because I’m an asshole too.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the Fall/Spring/Summer semester’s regular opinion columnists have been selected.