DEV Community


Discussion on: Why I'm (not) an Asshole

dwd profile image
Dave Cridland Author

I was, it must be said, writing somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I know it's hard to criticise someone without it putting the receiver on the defensive, and I know it's the giver of that criticism that has to work on that - it's just human nature that an aggressive attack on one's opinions is going to harden those opinions.

It's a simple matter of empathy - if you ensure someone can empathise with you, you'll get them to see your point of view much more easily. Me, I find the Aristotelian method generally works best - asking the "student" questions so they figure out the answers on their own. Often, their answers give you insight into how and why they went wrong - and therefore what's wrong with your teaching. Sometimes they'll give you answers you hadn't thought of at all.

I'm pretty sure you're no more an an asshole than I am - but I'm also sure you've had the same struggle trying to give - and receive - criticism.

But I have encountered, and indeed worked with, too many people who think that they have some kind of right to be aggressively arrogant. Maybe they even do, but it doesn't actually help. There are a few people around in the community - Linus Torvalds is one - who are deeply obnoxious, but also astoundingly smart. People think one makes up for the other, but it really doesn't. Linus has lost good people - really good people - from the Linux kernel community simply because he's an asshole. He probably doesn't care, which of course just makes it worse.

In a previous job, I worked with a guy who was, undoubtedly, really smart - but he made my work life increasingly intolerable by his sheer arrogance and inability to work with people in a useful way. I tried to make things work, I tried raising it with the boss when it didn't, and all to no avail - some people, I was told, are just like that. Eventually I had to leave what was otherwise a great role in a great company. The guy was removed from the team and set to work on his own after a couple more years - it seems others shared my view eventually.

So yeah, assholes are horrible people. They're horrible to work with. And any amount of technical brilliance doesn't alter that very simple fact.

But the crazy thing is that being an asshole gains nobody anything. It's not a logical option, and it leads to no long term gains. If these people are so damn smart, you'd think they'd figure that out.

zenmumbler profile image

The classic "How to win friends and influence people" — written by a marketer hence the click-baity title (about 60 years before most people would be clicking on anything at all) — is still a great resource about this and related matters. The book really is all about empathising with others, trying not to "be right" etc. I encourage everyone to give it a read, no matter what level of assholishness you feel you exhibit.

Thread Thread
dwd profile image
Dave Cridland Author

Yup, I have a copy on my bookshelf. Good old Dale even changed his surname for marketing reasons.