If you've recently been wondering about this explosion of interpersonal monstrousness, Bob Sutton is the man you need to hear from. A Stanford Business school professor, Sutton has built up a small cottage industry for himself by becoming the nation's go-to expert on, as he puts it, "a--holes." His first book (those with delicate ears, please cover them now as I'm quoting the title in full), The No Asshole Rule, became a runaway bestseller, and he's recently come out with a timely follow-up, The Asshole Survival Guide.
To mark the book's release, Sutton gave a lengthy interview to New York Magazine's Jessica Pressler, which covers lots of ground (including great, if weird, tricks to prevent nastiness from getting under your skin). But perhaps the most useful section of all, given the recent proliferation of jerks, is the part answering that burning question of our times: why is there suddenly such an unbelievable number of a--holes around? Here's Sutton's response in a nutshell.
1. Trump (and our politics in general)
Sutton is diplomatic about how he puts it, but read between the lines and it's clear that he believes one of the causes of today's incivility epidemic resides in the White House. After conceding that his definition of an a--hole ("a person who leaves people feeling demeaned, deenergized, and disrespected"), "certainly applies" to the current president, Sutton goes on to note that the general nastiness of our current politics is, like all type of nastiness, extremely contagious.
"Most of politics is everybody calling everybody else a--holes," he tells Pressler, and "nasty behavior spreads much faster than nice behavior, unfortunately." Or in other words, Trump's bullying tweets and insult-laden rallies are almost certainly doing nothing to improve the tenor of the national conversation.
The massive gap between the haves and have-nots also doesn't discourage the formation of jerk-like tendencies, according to Sutton: "The research says that when we're in those situations [i.e. large imbalances in power and wealth], there's envy going up, and sort of disdain goes down," he notes.
It doesn't take a PhD in psychology to figure out that the anonymity of online interaction can turn people into vicious trolls, but if you need an expert to confirm this truth, Sutton is happy to oblige.
"Research also shows that technology has increased the 'a--hole problem,' as Sutton puts it," writes Pressler, summing up this section of the conversation. "Because people are much more likely to be mean if they don't have to make eye contact. And because technology has created the expectation for things to happen faster, and at all hours of the day, hurriedness and sleep deprivation have become major factors."
Do you agree with Sutton's underlying presence --- are jerks more prevalent than ever before?