Mark Danger Powers

4+ Jerks, 1 Lesson

Bikers, travelers, and musicians . . . oh my! All about the analogies today, let me explain four ways that I’ve learned the same lesson. And we begin with a story . . .

(1) I’m driving down Powell Boulevard in Portland yesterday morning when a motorcyclist (let’s call him Biker 1) blazes past me, hotdogging all over the road and swerving back and forth in the lane next to me. A minute later, as we’re both sitting at a red light, another biker enters the intersection from the cross street and goes blowing by us, treating everyone within a five-mile radius to an aural dose of his 100+ decibel aftermarket loudpipes. Biker 1 watches Biker 2 peel away down the street, then turns toward me, shaking his head with utter disgust written all over his face.

Who knows exactly what the issue was . . . maybe Biker 2 was showing his immaturity and/or disrespect by being so obnoxious. Maybe his ride wasn’t cool enough to be so boisterous. Or maybe he was just having too much fun. Whatever the case, it certainly seemed that Biker 1 was upset that he wasn’t the only bigshot out terrorizing the city streets. In his little world, the road belongs to him and there just isn’t enough room for anyone else in his territory.

(2) Driving out of town, the motorcycle incident brought to mind a scenario I experienced seven years ago, in Ghana, Africa.

The majority of my two months in the country was spent living in the small village of Kopeyia which, at that time, had neither running water nor electricity. During my entire stay in that area, there were only a couple of instances when I came in contact with other Westerners. The few of them that ventured into Kopeyia were extremely cool and sociable. It was when I left the village, and traveled to the markets in nearby towns, that I had a problem with fellow foreigners.

I remember well the first time it happened. I was navigating the narrow pathways between hundreds of outdoor vendors, overwhelmed by the beautiful textiles and fresh produce, when I looked up and was surprised by the sight of a white face passing by me! My smile and exuberant “hey!” was met with . . . nothing. No reply. No eye contact. My new friend went hustling by me as if I were completely invisible. And don’t try telling me that I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb! It sort of caught me off guard. Why would a traveler in such a remote part of the world NOT find it [at least mildly] interesting so see another foreign face among the throngs of locals? A few minutes later, we were again in close proximity, and I tried again. This time, we made some progress . . . almost. My small-talk comment about some unusual looking fruit got a whopping “eh” out of him. And then he walked away.

Why? I’ve discussed this with many other travelers over the years, and most seem to agree. Many of us, as we’re traversing the globe, like to believe that we are the only ones out there doing so. I am the lone vagabond, going where no one else will dare; following in no man’s footsteps. I am a real life Indiana Jones.

(3) The same phenomenon is found in the music world, as well. I wish I could count the number of times that I’ve heard an instrumentalist, who feels that he’s breaking entirely new musical ground, turn around and rip another player apart (often behind his/her back) for trying to do the same. Songwriter after songwriter feel that their album will be the one everybody’s been waiting for. They’ve created something different; they’re poised to appeal to the masses. But then they scoff at other bands’ cheesy lyrics, “hooks,” arrangements and orchestrations. Apparently, only they have the magic touch. Everyone else seems to be unoriginal, a ‘poser’ or, at best, merely mediocre.

(4) And what about in life in general? How many of us know someone who is constantly talking down other people and their ideas, instead of focusing on improving themselves? You know who I’m referring to: that guy that’s always talking smack about everyone else’s relationships, while not able to maintain one himself. The girl at work who somehow turns that ‘life goal’ you discretely shared with her into a joke that gets passed around the office and used as fodder to heckle you with. The dude sending jeers your direction after each missed shot during your pool game at the bar.

What brings that type of behavior out of someone? It may be insecurity. It may be jealousy. It may be a need for attention. Or perhaps he/she doesn’t already have enough to do, so they feel their time and energy are best spent pointing out others’ failures, shortcomings and the [potential] negatives of everyone/everything around them. It sure can make you feel better about yourself and help you overlook your own.

But what really becomes of that tunnel vision nay-sayer? First of all, chances are, other people take notice. They hear a complainer, a whiner, a jerk. In their eyes, you might as well have a giant “L” on your forehead. That’s right, I said it . . . Loser. Your words begin to carry less weight and have less impact. Your opinion no longer matters. Your reputation is shot.

Secondly, all of that attention focused on dissecting [and turning your nose up to] everyone else’s lives probably comes at the expense of focusing on your life, goals, relationships, weaknesses and growth.

The takeaway: don’t be a jerk. Ignore the flaws of people you know, work with and meet. Instead, dedicate some time to working on your own. Or, if you really do feel the sincere need to make someone aware of a weakness that needs some work, do so with a genuine interest in their well-being, and accompany your comment with an offer to help.

And please, should you ever catch me doing one of the aforementioned, slap me and point it out, will ya? Thanks. Otherwise, ’til next time: Ride Hard, Live Free!

Have a similar example? Additional thoughts?
I wanna hear ’em . . . drop a comment below!

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  1. Mark, interesting observations. I’ve experienced some of the same things while overseas. There have been numerous times when fellow travelers have ignored me caught up in their own adventures I guess. While I enjoy interacting with the “locals” I also enjoy meeting new people and finding out what brought them out and away from their home land. One thing I have noticed that for me is a disturbing trend is this fascination with the lives of other people. Some of the most popular shows on TV are celebrity gossip and “reality” shows. It seems so many of us are living vicariously through others when we should be out there living our own exciting life. I always hear people comment like “I wish I could do something like that.” Guess what? You probably can if you put a priority on it. Anyway, file this comment under “additional thoughts”.

    • Ha! “Additional Thoughts . . . by Matt Koenig“: the Jack Handey of the blogosphere. DO it! But I digress . . . 🙂

      I often hope that the case is, as you mentioned, someone getting “caught up in their own adventures.” I just always think, “wow, I’m out here in the middle of nowhere, and here’s another foreigner that can probably totally relate to some of the thoughts and experiences I’m having right now? Cool- let’s chat!”

      And yep, I get the “wish I could do that” comments all the time. I’ve mentioned those vicarious adventurers a couple of times.

  2. That is interesting that you had such bummer experiences with other foreigners while in Ghana. For me, it was the first time I had been a “minority,” and I always felt relieved to run into other White foreigners because I didn’t have to be the lone Yevu (Ewe word for White…Mark I know YOU know that) anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a racist thing…I LOVED my Ghanaian family and friends, and never have I felt more welcomed and accepted than I did while in Ghana…but it gave me a whole new understanding of why sometimes people of color in the U.S. just want to be around other people who look like them…sometimes you need that. It was also really great to run into other Americans (of any color) so I could talk fast and use slang…my American accent was tough for my friends in the village to understand, so I had to make sure to talk really slowly and carefully…which was tough for me to do!

    As for the bit about musicians being jerks, I couldn’t agree more…I wrote a blog entry about that after reading an article about “The Abundance Mentality” on the Musician’s Way blog (…we are all just so afraid that someone else is going to come along and steal all the gigs and all the students that we treat each other like garbage. It’s a shame, really.

    • You know it . . . I am quite familiar with the chant of “yevu, yevu!” 🙂 And you’re absolutely right on about how nice it was to find someone to speak quickly and easily with. Just read your post (and highly recommend it to any other readers hanging out with us here at the bottom of the page!). Thanks for commenting and sharing, Catherine!

  3. I worked in U.A.E before and was happy that I saw many Filipinos as well especially in my workplace but it seems that they’re not happy to see a fellow countryman ‘coz everyone is either gossiping and looking down and or bringing a fellow Filipino down.
    When I also was a tourist in Hong kong a friend warned me that if ever I should asked directions, better I asked the locals or other foreigners if I asked also a Filipino they might give me wrong directions intentionally. Thankfully though the Filipinos I encountered in Hong Kong we’re kind.

    • Hi, Mie- thanks for dropping a line and sharing your experiences. How awful that that’s the case in both the Emirates and HK. But I am happy to hear that you found some kind fellow Filipinos, as well! It’s really too bad that some people are like that, when they could act otherwise and make everyone’s world a better place. Thanks again- hope to see you around here again soon!

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