“What a jerk!” It's a pretty safe bet that each and every one of us has uttered that phrase at some time or another. The problem is that what constitutes a “jerk” might be different things for different people. Coming to a consensus as to what defines “jerkiness” is a a bit of a challenge. 


A professor of philosophy at University of California, Riverside has made an attempt to take the guesswork out of the terminology. Eric Schwitzgebel has published an essay: “A theory of jerks.” In it, he presents some interesting hypotheses. 

“I submit that the unifying core, the essence of jerkitude in the moral sense, is this: the jerk culpably fails to appreciate the perspectives of others around him, treating them as tools to be manipulated or idiots to be dealt with rather than as moral and epistemic peers. The jerk himself is both intellectually and emotionally defective, and what he defectively fails to appreciate is both the intellectual and emotional perspectives of the people around him. He can’t appreciate how he might be wrong and others right about some matter of fact; and what other people want or value doesn’t register as of interest to him. The bumpkin ignorance captured in the earlier use of ‘jerk’ has changed into a type of moral ignorance.”


Even though jerks are ignorant according to Schwitzgebel, they don't see themselves in the same light. “All normal jerks distribute their jerkishness mostly down the social hierarchy, and to anonymous strangers. Waitresses, students, clerks, strangers on the road – these are the unfortunates who bear the brunt of it. With a modicum of self-control, the jerk, though he implicitly or explicitly regards himself as more important than most of the people around him.” 


Schwitzgebel also notes that jerks think: “I’m surrounded by idiots!” This false sense of importance conceals the jerk's jerkitude from himself. “Thinking yourself important is a pleasantly self-gratifying excuse for disregarding the interests and desires of others. Thinking that the people around you are idiots seems like a good reason to disregard their intellectual perspectives.”


The sad thing is that jerks don't seem to know they are jerks. However,  Schwitzgebel has a simple test for this. “The most reliable way to tell if you're a jerk is to look around. Are you surrounded by fools, by boring nonentities, by faceless masses and foes and suckers and, indeed, jerks? If the answer is yes, then it's a safe bet you're the jerk.” (https://aeon.co/essays/so-you-re-surrounded-by-idiots-guess-who-the-real-jerk-is)


I leave it to you to identify the people you consider jerks, but having a feeling that you are being swamped by jerks could be disconcerting. To combat this feeling it might be wise to adopt the message from the old Bing Crosby song, “Let a smile be your umbrella.” In that song, one line advises us “...a smile will always pay.” 


It turns out that sincere smiling has some scientifically measurable benefits. For one thing, smiling boosts your immune system. Smiling every day adds an average of 7 years to your life. Women smile more than men, which might help account for the fact that the average life expectancy in this country is 81.2 years for women and 76.3 years for men. (http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/08/health/us-life-expectancy-down/)


Children smile 400 times a day on average. Adults average only 20 smiles, and happy adults smile 45 times. We adults can learn from children.


Smiling more can also pay financial dividends. Smiles make people seem more attractive and get them better promotions at work – 12 percent more than people who don’t smile much. Seventy-two percent of people believe that people who smile are more successful and more confident and smiling people are 24 percent more memorable. 


Not only that, if you want to impress that certain someone, remember that smiles are considered attractive. Seventy-one percent of women and 58 percent of men say it is an important factor in choosing a partner. Researchers found that interaction between two smiling people is better regardless of the topic. 



I know what you're thinking. “What do I have to smile about?” Well, sometimes something little can generate a smile, we just have to be ready to smile when we come upon it. For example, a simple Yoplait yogurt commercial never fails to make me smile. In the spot, a little girl is caught by her father while she is raiding the refrigerator. “What are you doing up,” he asks. “Mom said I could have a midnight snack,” she replies. “It's only 10:43,” the dad admonishes. To which the little girl suggests, “Then let's have a 10:43 snack.” (https://www.ispot.tv/ad/AMn1/yoplait-original-1043-snack)


If you don't find something about which to smile on a given day, for my money there's nothing that creates an instant smile like one-liners from the late, great comedian Rodney Dangerfield. 


Dangerfield said he had it tough as a kid. “I tell ya when I was a kid, all I knew was rejection. My yo-yo, it never came back! When I was a kid I got no respect. One time I was kidnapped, and the kidnappers sent my parents a note they said, 'We want five thousand dollars or you'll see your kid again.' I was so ugly, my mother used to feed me with a slingshot!” 


He also observed that his family was not too intelligent. “ I come from a stupid family. During the Civil War my great uncle fought for the west! My wife's not too smart. I told her our kids were spoiled. She said, 'All kids smell that way.'"


Speaking about his wife, Dangerfield hinted that his marriage was a bit rocky. “My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met. My wife made me join her bridge club; I jump next Tuesday. It's tough to stay married. My wife kisses the dog on the lips, yet she won't drink from my glass.”


One of the reasons Dangerfield had for his problems was the fact that he realized he was not a good looking guy. “I went to see my doctor. I told him once, 'Doctor, every morning when I get up and look in the mirror I feel like throwing up. What's wrong with me?' He said, 'I don't know, but your eyesight is perfect.'” 



If all else fails, at least we have the Super Bowl this Sunday and maybe we can all derive some fun from that. To that end, join me in this simple prayer. “Dear Lord, we beseech you to grant us three hours with no politics this Super Bowl Sunday. Amen.” 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews