The Jackass Detector

A little story about a friend from back in my corporate years who gave me a major insight, one that I didn't really appreciate until much later. [1] Ironically, I bet he doesn't even remember this conversation.

He had just had surgery to correct a lazy eye (strabismus for the eye geeks out there). The main distinctive thing about strabismus is how it can be… odd… to talk to someone and have one of their eyes tracking you--while the other eye points away in a different direction.

Now, remember, I'm married to an optometrist, so to me his strabismus was interesting more than odd. But for people unfamiliar with the condition it can take a little getting used to.

I asked him what it was like to grow up with strabismus. Did he get teased for being different? Middle school and high school kids can be pretty brutal. Did it interfere in his ability to make friends?

His answer surprised me. He told me a lazy eye was a blessing, because it was an extremely useful jackass detector. Anyone who was a jerk about his condition instantly gave himself away! Not worth bothering with, ever.

At the time, I understood what he meant to some extent, but it wasn't until years later that I realized that he had given me an enormous insight that I could apply far more broadly. To see what I mean, think of all the things we say, buy, do and demonstrate in our lives:

* Do we argue about politics and try to "win" conversations? Jackass attractor.
* Do we brandish brand names (on our clothes, cars, etc.)? Possible jackass attractor.
* Are we flashy, consumerist, status competitive? Probable jackass attractor.

And so on. Or, on the contrary:

* Are we honest, sincere and direct? Jackass-repellent.
* Do we listen, and I mean really listen? Jackass repellent.
* Do we offer help to others, when asked? Jackass repellent.

Just as a physical disability helps expose jackasses, the way you live your life may also do the same.

[1] I've altered some details to keep this person anonymous.


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