If I ever write a self help book, I think I’m going to call it Don’t be That Guy. You know that guy? He’s the one who took two brownies even though everyone was asked to only take one and then there weren’t enough for everybody. He’s the guy who completely failed to notice you standing there and took your turn. He’s the guy who totally didn’t think through the thing that just came out of his mouth and then compounded it by failing to apologize. No matter how great he is the rest of the time, nobody likes that guy when he’s being That Guy, and I definitely do not want to be in his shoes if I can help it.
The unfortunate truth is that sometimes everyone is that guy. I think we live in a world with so absurdly many things going on simultaneously that it’s structurally impossible for us to be considerate of one another in any consistent way. No matter how much I want to avoid being insensitive or getting on people’s nerves, I’m never going to be able to be aware enough of everything going on around me to make that a reality. But there’s a difference between inadvertently being a jackass when you’re actually trying not to be, and being a jackass because you’re oblivious to everything including what a jackass everyone thinks you are.
Oddly, one of the places I noticed just how much That Guy pisses people off was in the TV series Hannibal. Hannibal Lecter is a truly awful human being and there’s a whole level on which I wish I’d made the decision not to let what his character does on the show take up space inside my head. I chose to because even though it’s grotesque and horrifying, it’s a clever, interesting, well-made, visually beautiful show and I just plain got sucked in. I bring it up because one of the factors that plays into Hannibal’s choice of victims is whether they are ill-mannered. “Whenever feasible, one should eat the rude” is an adage he offers to one of his proteges, and there is more than one comparison drawn to pigs. He even has a Rolodex of people who have been rude to him which he consults when he wants to throw a dinner party.
Hannibal murders people, mutilates them, and consumes parts of their bodies, which is so monstrous that he really shouldn’t be sympathetic at all, but when he selects people who behave badly or have irritating habits it strangely does create some level of empathy. Do I think medical examiner Andrew Caldwell deserved to have his insides packed into ziploc freezer bags and served as a variation on a recipe for Crisp Lemon Calf Liver for being the kind of insurance company doctor you hope you don’t get? Hell no, but I can understand why Hannibal disliked him and wished him out of existence, and it wasn’t a surprise when it took the natural form that antipathy would for a cannibalistic serial killer. The fact that I feel any inkling of understanding for that demonstrates just how much inappropriate or inconsiderate behavior bothers me.
Hannibal’s cultural sensibilities actually remind me of something from an earlier period in history. He’s extremely polite and charming, even when he’s playing with his prey like a cat. Part of the reason it’s possible to relate to him at all, or believe that the other characters on the show refuse to believe that he’s a mass-murderer and continue to count him as a friend, is that he places such a high value on manners. He’d be right at home in a Romantic period adaptation where any perceived slight could be taken as cause for offense and result in a duel and an untimely death at the end of your opponents choice of weapon. In a way it’s a similar value scale, where pride and etiquette are weighted more heavily than human life and anyone who doesn’t appreciate them deserves what they get.
Of course, in addition to being unintentionally inconsiderate or completely oblivious, there’s also being a jackass on purpose to get what you want. It’s an approach that frequently goes along with some kind of narrative about how whatever you’re doing isn’t really a big deal. Gutter comic’s editor, Carol Borden, describes it as “I’m just gonna…”, as in “I’m just gonna park here in the bike lane for 2 minutes while I run in and do the thing I need to do,” meanwhile multiple cyclists risk pulling out into traffic so That Guy won’t be inconvenienced by having to find an actual parking spot.
Living in a city where parking is scarce and expensive, I can relate to the brand of insanity that overtakes people when trying to find a spot. One of my mother-in-law’s friends recently made a joke about being at an age where ‘getting lucky’ means finding a parking space right outside the door. But when parking close by means placing personal convenience above other people’s safety it’s very much being that guy (especially when there’s a real parking spot 20 feet further down the street). You don’t get a special parking permit for being incapacitatingly impatient.
Again, we all make those kinds of decisions – every time we jaywalk, for instance – and a lot of the time we’re probably right that it’s not going to be a big deal for anyone if we do what works for us. Other times though, chaos theory kicks in and the ramifications of the one little thing that we’re “just gonna” do include a Mousetrap-style chain of events for us or someone else. Half the time we may never even see happen and go on our way oblivious to the wake of destruction behind us. I imagine it like a scene from a movie where the character pulls out one piece and walks away while the whole room goes down like a domino chain behind him.
Not everything is predictable without complicated equations. I accept that I won’t be able to prevent myself from ever acting like a jackass, but the trick with how people feel about it when you do is that you almost always get two chances for every mistake you make. The first is getting it right to begin with, but once you’ve blown that part, the second chance is how you handle it. When you discover that you’ve gotten it wrong, do you make it worse by ignoring it, or getting angry at people, or killing them and eating their organs? If you take the opportunity to own up and try to turn it around into something better, then I’d say you’ve learned the secret of how to not be That Guy.
Even though he does not remember doing it, alex MacFadyen would like to apologize for that time he stepped on your foot but didn’t say anything because he mistook it for the foot of a table leg.