We meet both in this world and it’s easy to tell them apart.
Angels take a genuine interest in others. They want to help and don’t care who gets the credit. Assholes are narcissists to whom all others are pawns. They want to be seen as large and in charge, e.g., Douglas MacArthur, Donald Trump.
Angels are humble and lifelong learners. They strive for win-win relationships and give far more than they take. Assholes are entitled egotists. They may have their faults but being wrong isn’t one of them. Relationships are one-way; people are expendable, e.g., Steve Jobs, Kanye West.
Angels don’t think they’re angels.
Assholes don’t think they’re assholes.
In his scholarly book, Assholes: A Theory, Dr. Aaron James establishes the taxonomy of an asshole:
Our theory is simply this: a person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.
He identifies three things about genuine assholes we do well to keep in mind:
- Assholes are born narcissists with an innate and unshakable sense of superiority.
- Assholes aren’t interested in change because they’re right. Trying to change them is an exercise in futility.
- The best way to deal with assholes is to avoid them. And when you can’t, don’t let them bully you.
It doesn’t seem Christian to call people derogatory names, but Jesus had no qualms calling the assholes of his day “hypocrites,” “a brood of vipers,” “whitewashed graves” and “twice a child of hell.” (Asshole is actually pretty tame.)
These weren’t people who behaved badly on occasion or who honestly disagreed with Jesus on some point. Their innate dispositions reeked of hubris, hypocrisy and haughtiness. Jesus called them what they were to their faces. They hated him for it and saw to his execution—further proving they were assholes.
Use a different anatomical term if you like for these “elbows.” Avoid them whenever possible; life is too short to spend in their toxic orbits. Stand your ground if there’s no place to retreat, though, i.e. when the elbow’s a family member or authority figure. It won’t change them, but it will keep them from changing you.