Life is Short. People are Hurting. Don’t be a Jerk

I walked around today and I looked at people; those passing me in the grocery store, driving beside me on the highway, filling my newsfeed, walking by the house.

I tried to really see them. 

I tried to look beneath the surface veneer they wore; to imagine the invisible burdens they might be carrying beneath it: sick children, relational collapse, financial tension, crippling depression, profound grief, crisis of faith, loss of purpose—or maybe just the custom designed multitude of the nagging insecurities and fears they’ve been carrying around since grade school and have never been able to shake.

As I looked at all these people, I wondered what kind of specific and personal hell they might be enduring, and it reminded me—so I’m reminding you: 

Life is stunningly short and it is eggshell fragile.
Most people are having a really tough time.
They are almost always in more pain than you think they are.
Everyone is doing the very best they can to get through this day, and many are going through all manner of horrors in the process.
No one is immune from the invasive collateral damage of living.

And you don’t have to save these people or fix them or give them any special treatment.

They are rarely asking for such things.

The only thing these wounded and weary human beings need from you as you share this space with them—is for you not be a jerk.

It’s really that simple.

They need you to not contribute to their grieving, not to compound their sadness, not to amplify their fear, not to add to their adversity.
They need anything less than contempt from you.
They need you to embrace the vow of doctors and caregivers, of trying to do no harm to them.

This isn’t difficult, either.

Actually, when it comes right down to it, not being an jerk is about as elementary as it gets:

Don’t impose your religious beliefs on other people.
Don’t demand that they adapt to your preferences of identity or orientation.

Don’t try to take away things that keep them physically healthy or give them peace of mind or allow them access to education or opportunity.
Don’t put obstacles in a parent’s way of caring for their children or working to support them or guiding them safely into adulthood.

Don’t tell people who they can marry or how they should worship or where they can call home.
Don’t do things that make them more vulnerable to sickness and sadness and stress.
Don’t try to keep people from having things that you take for granted.

And strangely enough, it’s actually so much more work to be a jerk to people—and yet so many seem hopelessly bent on it.

Right now in America we are seeing what happens when people discard the Golden Rule; when they abandon simple decency and choose enmity; when they feel compelled to show cruelty to strangers; when another’s sorrow is of no concern.

On social media, in our school hallways, in our neighborhoods, even in the highest levels of Government, we are seeing an epidemic of malevolence; men and women seemingly driven to be hurtful and to do damage—human beings compelled to be jerks.

Friends, I wish I could find a more eloquent, more poetic, less abrasive way to say this, but I can’t. 

At the end of the day, so many of the grieving, struggling, fearful human beings filling up the landscape you find yourself in today, are hanging by the very thinnest of threads.

They are heroically pushing back despair, enduring real and imagined terrors, warring with their external circumstances and with their internal demons.

They are doing the very best they can, sometimes with little help or hope—and they just need those of us who live alongside them to make that best-doing, a little easier.

These words are for me.
They’re for you.
They’re for ordinary people.

They’re for our elected leaders.
They’re for our President.

Life is short.
It is extremely fragile.

People are grieving.
They are struggling.
They are hurting.

For God’s sake and for theirs—please just don’t be a jerk.





57 thoughts on “Life is Short. People are Hurting. Don’t be a Jerk

  1. Hurt people like to hurt people. If so then what do people who love like to do? I don’t know but let’s love one another to find out!!!

  2. There is a method of dealing with insecurity and fears that some adopt, and that is oneupmanship. Some choose to block others from what they need and want in order to feel superior to them. “I have something better than you; therefore I allay my fears by comparison to the other who does not share in my privilege.” This is a poor method of coping, because one never has enough, and it motivates the put down of others. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you is aptly called the golden rule as it is at the heart of all major religions and morality. It makes the world a better place when we are one for all and all for one. I am Canadian, and our country has universal health care. This is a social equalizer that removes stress and prevents bankruptcy from health-related treatments. It is a kind policy to have. We tend to take it for granted, and yet it permeates the way in which we treat one another. We acknowledge in our policies that all people have the right to free health care, clean water, air, food and shelter. When there are gaps we open shelters, food banks and soup kitchens. Low income housing is subsidized. Children get free medication until age 18. No cost dental services are provided to school children whose parents do not have the means. Training and subsidized work programs are provided. I used to run an individualized adult literacy program that was entirely free for the students that included instruction, testing, books, supplies, bus tickets or bus passes, free on-site childcare and free registration for GED. I received grants from a variety of multi-level governments (federal, provincial, city) and from foundations totally half a million dollars per year. I recruited retired teachers and college students needing com hours and trained and matches them as tutors. People thrived with this opportunity. Many went on to complete university, to complete training at colleges in medical areas, passed heavy equipment tests to get work, went on the an adult high school, etc. Their lives were improved. They gained confidence. They learned their rights and found ways to practice those. They got involved in governing the program by being on the student council or joining the board of directors. They learned a bout voting. The cycle of illiteracy was broken in the family literacy program where parents learned how to stimulate pre-reading activities and early reading for their daycare children. So we can make a difference not only in what we DO NOT DO, but in what systems, structures and policies we use to DO GOOD. Yes, people are hurting, and yet when they come together in an environment that fosters respect and provides skills, they gain power over the ability to change their own lives, Community is formed and within that community the strengths of the whole come to support each one wherever an individual has a deficit. We are stronger when we group together as one with a common goal, and the entire society benefits.

    • Kathleen.

      Canada has a greater land mass than USA yet its population is the same as California. You cannot compare the two countries.

      Americans love their hard won freedom, and we continue to be reluctant to let Govt take over our Health Care. Can you blame us? Govt is sometimes ineffective, inefficient, w cost over runs, it sometimes provides poor service, and by necessity, choices are limited, and treatment & non-treatment is sometimes morally questionable.

      About 3,500 Americans moved to Canada last year. Hardly any. And that is why.

      • If you read again what she wrote, you will find that she described from her own experience how things work in Canada. She doesn’t compare her experience to the United States or any other country for that matter. You owe her an apology.

        I didn’t understand your argument that because the American government cannot be trusted to run health care, Americans are not interested in moving to Canada.

        Anytime I have heard Americans weighing the pros and cons of moving to Canada, the deciding factor is usually that it is too cold in Canada.

        • It is also difficult to get IN if you are not Canadian, unless you have special skills that are lacking job-wise. So the numbers of Americans who are ABLE to move to Canada is severely limited. Plus, who wants us with all this mean-spirited stuff going on in our country and especially government?

      • Canada does not have an open border to let disgruntled Americans move right in. One has to apply and meet certain conditions. So, of the people who might want to move there, only a certain percentage are allowed to. That is a more concrete reason why such a small number of Americans move to Canada,

        • Great point! Their argument has nothing to do with the government’s ability or lack of to run anything. Rather it comes from the mean spirited and unempathic views that pervade the American culture at this time.

    • So I ponder after reading this…What is our extreme capitalistic society afraid of? Why do we continue to “take” from the vulnerable and fatten the already fat cats? What is our fear of universal healthcare? Assisting those who need assistance? We in the US are painfully lonely, angry, prone to violence as a means to vent and determined to win. Win what? The even more expedient downfall of a young nation at the expense of “getting mine”? Our present administration exacerbates this. We must rise above, remember the Golden Rule and exercise our voting rights. Even gerrymandering cannot stop a people who are desperate for civility, compassion and decency.

  3. Jimmy Carter once said, “There is a remarkable trend toward fundamentalism in all religions–including the different denominations of Christianity… Increasingly, true believers are inclined to begin a process of deciding: ‘Since I am aligned with God, I am superior and my beliefs should prevail, and anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong,’ and the next step is ‘inherently inferior.’ The ultimate step is ‘subhuman,’ and then their lives are not significant.” Have we reached that point?

  4. Respect and love shine brightly when they are illuminated from within. Those who love themselves love others. Those who respect themselves respect others. Those whose ego is trained to do good and care about others and the planet are carriers of respect and love.
    Respect and love can be taught and caught when those we look to for all of life’s needs also respect and love.
    One thing above all else should be of the highest priority, that is to demonstrate, teach and express respect and love.

  5. Its actually really easy. You be nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. However, if you’re an asshole to me is a different story. Im not interested in why youre an asshole to me. You work that out and control yourself.

  6. Mr. Pavlovitz, those are good words, but you forget the motto of Paul Ryan and the Republicans – if you are poor or needy it is because you are stupid or lazy or probably both. Funny they love the word “inconvenient” when it comes to the unborn but are loathe to call people who have less the same word when their actions prove that that is exactly how they feel.

    Once again the Republicans have out maneuvered the Democrats. We do not need to guess why they have never even attempted to fund CHIP all this time. They needed them to put the Democrats in a box knowing that whichever way they choose – fellow humans would be hurt. We do not have a wise King Soloman to shows us which side cares the most. Republicans really do not show a preference for which ever side loses – DACA or CHIP. They won.

    We can only go by what has been told to us for years. It is not right to steal money from hard working Americans to force them to pay for those other lazy or stupid or both non-patriotic Americans. We are supposed to say I got mine, if you don’t have yours it is your fault. My taxes shouldn’t have to pay for parks or mountains or lakes I do not visit. Especially when some can make money destroying them. My taxes shouldn’t have to pay for schools that my children do not attend when I can use that money to pay a for-profit school and someone can make money off children. My taxes should go to drilling off all our shores – except for Florida because Mar-a-lago is there, so someone can make loads of money.

    So again, the Republicans have outsmarted the other side. Just like when they forced a government shut-down, they were rewarded. Just like when they use gerrymandering, they are rewarded. Just like winning Citizen’s United – 2 wealthy brothers can play the country like a game of chess. Just like using their obstruction skills to keep Obama from filling open seats for judges during his last years – even obstructing Obama from filling an open Supreme Court Justice seat with a moderate.

    I think the Republicans have been the party of Trump way before there was Trump. It isn’t about how heavy you have to put your thumb on the scale, it is about the WIN and only the WIN.

    Poor Paul Ryan will have to wait until after the next Presidential election to go after Medical and Social Security. Even Trump knows that just might be the final straw for his base although I wonder if he realizes a lot of his base is on welfare and the reason is there are no shows where they are. He has said he going to fix the welfare system. But he is probably only Funny how California is one of the states who pay in to the government yet it is Trump’s base states that reap the most rewards.

    Trump says he wants the federal government to be smaller which means that the states have to pick up the slack. (oh, except for the pot thing, and the gun thing and the immigrant thing) Down the road when even Trump’s base have to start paying higher state taxes, I wonder how fast the not being able to claim state taxes will last. Right now it only affects mostly Blue States. Funny

    Anyway, sorry fellow under the median income humans, (I am one) Republicans keep winning so you will keep losing. You just need to accept the facty that there will never be enough money to satisfy the money god and those who worship him.

  7. What a awesome day! Imagine if any other President had an extramarital affair with a porn star named Storm Daniels.

    Imagine making up a so-called protection for health care workers to use their faith or beliefs as a reason to not do their job. Don’t they already have the protection to pick and choose where they want to work – like the rest of us? Does that mean they get to tell their employers what they will or will not do at any given moment depending on who or what the patient is. Or, does that mean employers will be allowed to decide to hire or not hire them for their beliefs. I wonder who will squeal first.

    Imagine Republicans purposely holding CHIP funding hostage to make Democrats decide which group of humans should be harmed.

    You just cannot make this s%$t up. There are no more alternative facts. We are living in an alternative universe where some have lost all pretense of common sense.

    • They don’t kill babies in the name of Jesus like you guys do by the millions. And you’re proud of it too. Roe v Wade is the centerpiece of your corrupted dogma and abortion is your unholy sacrament.

      • I have killed no babies and do not support it. I also want those babies taken care of after they are born. When each of us try to speak for Jesus we should pay great attention to the Sermon on the Mount.

        • If you voted for Clinton or 99% of Democrats, you support abortion. The red herring that Republicans hate born children doesn’t get you off the hook.

  8. I’m glad to see you changed the title of this portion of your blog, John, but it has shown, again, the depth of your anger and, dare I say it, hatred of those who you perceive to be the enemy. As the months have rolled by, I have seen the language you employ on this blog increasingly look like that which you hear on the average Hollywood blockbuster. Seriously ? You think Jesus would “be alright ” with that? You’d like your children using that kind of language? “Out of the overflow of a man’s heart, the mouth speaks “

      • When I read the comments from atco1963 and leslie m. my first thought was that I’d like to try some of what they are smoking. But on second thought, if I am going to try living in a fantasy world, the one they are in is not the one I want it to be. “Hatred,” “anger,” “vicious”? I see patience and love, occasionally “tough love,” but always love. Oh, well. Projection.

        • When he call our President an “Orange Demon” you think he is saying that with love?

          He’s already said he hates Trump and has given his followers his blessing to hate him as well.

  9. These words mean a lot to me today. Thank you for arming me with a short phrase to take with me through my day. It is too easy to go low when I see and hear what I do.

  10. This blog showed as a memory I shared on FB last year, I remember reading it over and over…as my feelings and thoughts were finally placed in eloquent words! I shared and left for work. Today, I spent much time and have read many I missed, and fell in love…Thank you…I have signed up for the newsletter, and if you ever come to Detroit to speak, I am there..front row God Bless

  11. As for #1, unfortunately recruitment (aka evangelizing) is a big part of most religious theologies. Too many people believe that by imposing their religious beliefs on people, individually and en masse via legislation, they are doing them a favor. I don’t want to be a jerk – but if people are being one to me because of their zealotry, then all bets are off.

  12. John : this sums up the bible in doing good to others

    “Whatever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” Mark 11:24
    Jesus Christ gave you important keys on how your prayers will be answered. One of the keys that the Lord gave you is to believe to receieve the things you pray about. This is to have faith in God. He is good.
    Your Father in Heaven cares for you. He shall supply all your need according to the riches in glory by Jesus Christ. (Philippians 4:19)
    The Key is NOT my Will , THE will of the Father ( Obedience )
    If you ask what is your Father’s will when you pray, then you are to believe that you receive the things you ask for.
    How do you know what God’s will is? You understand God’s will by daily praying and reading the Holy Bible.

    Look at Jesus. He showed us God’s will. God’s will is to save the lost, forgive sins, give the Holy Spirit, help you live in holiness, heal the sick, deliver the captives, give wisdom and supply all your needs. God is good.

    So believe that you receive the things you ask for in prayer, and you will have them. Pray in faith now for your needs based on Mark 11:24.

    Jesus loves you.

  13. THank you for your wise words.They are comforting and help us remain in the present. How simple THE GOLDEN RULE is! Consider how life could be if we could each do our best to live by it! We could but we would have to want to! Here is to HOPE!!!

  14. Thank you so much for that! A message of true wisdom that people need to hear AND respond to! I had a spiritual, intense bit simple epiphany on 12/12/12 & it was ‘love & kindness’ being what it is all about. So simple that a lot miss it or want to put it into boxes and/or try & force it through religion or a specific path but it’s not for select groups, love & kindness is for EVERYONE! The trouble we’re having now, due to letting go of this simple but powerful wisdom & lifestyle of love & kindness, is that we’ve lost connection to others! We’re all rusty, some much more rusty & disconnected than others, they need even more to break through! We have to respect each other enough to let go of our selfishness, our judgements & cruelty & choose to take the higher road of love vibrations & connect with one another, putting aside our disagreements & silly nonsense because the life we could generate from people grabbing a hold of this in mass would be intensely incredible & the strength of the connective power would tear down the barriers that were never meant to be there! Love, light & blessings to you John Pavlovitz and all the readers of your beautiful & special article!

  15. I really appreciate your words of wisdom and agree our world is filled with humans that are walking about with a multitude of wounds and unseen pain. I noticed some anxiety reading the Don’t and changed the wording to WHY? As a female in a male dominated world men are often the jerks telling others Don’t, changing the wording to Why offers people the chance to ponder and choose a different way , your words becoming an offering

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  17. John, this is great. Have you addressed cynicism in the past? I find it to be one of the most fear-based, crippling attitudes I’ve experienced, and I’d appreciate your exploration of it.

  18. I would add to this wonderfully written piece by John, that even when someone is a jerk to you, react with gentleness and restraint. I’ve often seen it break the cycle people become enmeshed in, in reacting to hurt with anger, which causes more hurt, more anger, etc. Have you ever seen the look on someone’s face when you react to an unkind comment with a gentle reply ? It says something to people, when they can be tolerated, and even loved, even when they are being ugly.

  19. Naming an individual undermined what was otherwise a powerful article. You cannot write a piece dispensing blanket advice about how to treat everyone with compassion and empathy… except the President (or whoever). Either it applies to all or it applies to none.

  20. Thank you. I try to live like this everyday. I firmly believe that one kind word can save a life and it takes so little to do to pay a compliment, smile, or greet them.

  21. This is great, rings very true and a good reminder to everyone out there. I definitely think your heart is in the right place, but I will say I did a double take with your wording on “Don’t demand that they adapt to your preferences of identity or orientation”, because I honestly wasn’t sure where you were coming from at first. My concern with the way this was worded is that I feel it could mistakenly be taken both ways – people who “disagree” with others’ identity or orientation might say “yeah, don’t demand that I adapt to your “preferences”!, e.g. by calling you a pronoun that’s “difficult” for me to remember!” that type of thing.

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  24. I am a fan of yours, so consider this as an observation from a friend… I was ready to read this and get all the feels, because I SO much agree with the title. I was a little disheartened to see that the article instead once again took a political turn. Being kind to others doesn’t have to mean doing what is right on political levels. What happened to taking a few extra seconds to hold a door open for someone, to catch the eye of someone you’re passing on the sidewalk and giving them a smile, letting someone go ahead of you in traffic, etc.? Can we just get back to THOSE kindnesses? Does it always have to be about political issues?

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