How I stopped being a jerk

There was a time when I didn't have friends. I grew up in Japan(1993-2000). Since I didn't attend public school I didn't get to interact with other students outside of church. The relationships I did have centered around basketball, soccer, or video games. These were inherently competitive relationships. There was always a winner and a loser.

I think I believed that all relationships were a competition. Win graciously and try not to lose too many times and you have a good friend. When they won it was proof they were a worthy friend deserving respect.

I won with my words. I developed a wit that could cut others. Humor was my powerhouse. Humor requires the two main elements of superiority and surprise and I loved both. You make others laugh when your surprising wit makes them feel superior to the target. All humor must be cruel to some target or it is not funny. My "friends" were often my target.

Sarcasm, cynicism, body type, speech impediments, clothing, everything was fair game for my one man comedy show. I thought I won when everybody laughed. Everybody except the target that is. They would only laugh to save face. I hurt people with my words. In my relationships me winning meant others losing.

Eventually it meant me losing. People may have respected my wit. But they didn't respect me. People I thought were close friends started disappearing from my life completely. Nobody wants to be around someone that makes them feel like a loser.

When I started as a youth pastor 14 years ago my leadership was horrible. Good people were afraid to follow me because I proved over and over that I cared more about my win than theirs. I led people to be like me, and created competitive environments where wit was the supreme value.

I was lonely. I didn't trust anybody. How could I trust others with my pain, faults, and shortcomings? I knew they would just use it against me. If you have the wit to wrangle a crowd you are responsible for the environment you create. God gives us abilities to serve others for His Kingdom and His Glory not our own.

We can win together.

One Christmas years ago I decided to change. I went to a friend that I had hurt time and again, and I said I know I hurt you. I was wrong. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. They did and now we laugh at how I used to be such a jerk. I'm thankful I caught it before I was too far gone.

It was difficult at first. My wit fired so indiscriminately. My apologies had to fire just as fast. Every time I caught myself saying something hurtful to anyone I would go to the person and apologize.

Here are the steps I've taken to change:

  • Apologize every time I catch myself saying something hurtful
  • Apologize when someone tells me I said something hurtful
  • Catch myself before I say something hurtful and don't say it!
  • Refocus on helping others win
  • Make myself the target of my wit and humor and invite others to laugh with me as I laugh at myself.
  • Remove myself from sarcastically competitive relationships and environments.
  • Be honest, be vulnerable

Now I have years of retraining under my belt. Now my relationships complement rather than compete. I have many close friends, and I avoid competitive relationships. Competitive relationships lead to unhealthy environments. How would you describe your relationships?


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