There’s a certain type of person that rubs me the wrong way: the arrogant jerk who is full of himself (I say him, because it’s usually a guy, though women are not immune from this attitude). Every now and then I come across a jerk and talking to him makes me angry. I used to dismiss everything a jerk says, but a few years ago I discovered that even jerks can give good advice.
I remember one specific incident where I had a conversation with a jerk about marketing books. My wife and I had recently written a book and were in the midst of marketing it. He had also written a book (that was not selling very well). But he talked like he was an expert in marketing books; as if his ideas were the best in the world and that everyone else’s ideas (including the one I shared with him) were stupid. For some reason I actually listened to him explain his strategy for marketing. And I learned something from him that day. It hurt my ego to admit that even a jerk like him had something good to say.
If we are not careful, we may dismiss the words of another person even before they speak because of who they are. If we do this, we lose out on an opportunity to learn. This is called the Ad hominem fallacy, which is a fault in thinking that an argument can be rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or a specific attribute of the person making the argument.
“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. It takes a certain amount of humility and maturity to adopt this attitude. And I find it the most difficult to recognize that even a jerk is my superior in some way, and that I can learn from him or her.