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With all the talk about Occupy Wall Street and the 99% versus the 1%, I wanted to take a few minutes to warn you about a different group of one percenters: those who will punch you in the face for disrespecting them.

What I am referring to are people who CANNOT stand being insulted or otherwise disrespected, either directly or through passive-aggressive means. They usually step in when they see others being picked on too. These are people who believe in old-school versions of respect and are willing to defend their own honor by any means possible, including violence.

Think back to the 18th Century and earlier, when men would duel when their honor, or the honor of someone they love, was challenged. That’s where this type of thinking is coming from.

In this case, 1% is not a scientific number. It is a generalization I have given this group, based on the Hells Angels, who wore patches on their motorcycle jackets that simply said “1%.” This was because someone had famously said that 99% of people who ride motorcycles are upstanding people. The Hells Angels wanted you to know where they fit in to the equation.

I chose this number because I believe that 99% of people you encounter in your life will simply let an insult roll off their back because they don’t view the confrontation to be worth it. But, I must warn you that there are people out there who will demand an apology, and will punch you in the face if they don’t get it.

 

Meet an (Other) One Percenter

If you are still unsure who I am talking about, or don’t believe me, allow me to tell you a true story about a friend of mine who fits into this category.

My friend, let’s call him James, will punch you in the face if you disrespect him. He does not care if you are bigger than him, if you are with 10 other people, or if there is a cop standing 5 feet away. To him, respect is due to everyone you meet, unless they do something to cause you to lose it. Not only does he believe you owe him common respect, he will, by default, give you that same respect he expects.

If you make fun of him or one of his friends in a way he feels crosses the line, he will call you out for it and ask for an apology. If you don’t give it, he will demand it. If you are foolish enough to not comply, he will hurt you.

True story: James once had a party at his apartment in Chicago. He is a popular guy, even though he is from a tiny town in downstate Illinois, and not like most typical Chicagoans. Some friends of his showed up, and one of them brought a few people he didn’t know.

Being a respectful guy, James didn’t mind a few new faces.

The party went late, and when he woke up in the morning, aside from a large mess of beer bottles and cigarette ashes, he discovered that someone had carved an obscenity into his wooden coffee table.

Needless to say, he was furious. He knew that none of his friends would do this, and immediately suspected one of the strangers. He spent the day making phone calls to attendees and found a few people who saw one of the strangers do it with a key.

He also found out who the stranger was and where he worked. He was able to get a call in to the guy, and asked him to compensate him for the table. A couple hundred bucks. The guy refused, and called him a few choice words.

So what did my friend do? (hint: it’s something the OTHER 1% is prone to do)

He hurt him.

Specifically, he went to where the guy worked, a restaurant, and waited for him to get off work. He then confronted the guy in an alley and again demanded $200. The guy, who was with a couple coworkers, was feeling tough and told him to screw off.

James punched him in the stomach, then uppercutted him in the face. When he fell to the ground, James sat on his chest and poked him while lecturing about respect. He then removed the guy’s wallet from his pocket and took his tips for the night.

Long story short, James was arrested the next day and had to attend anger management, and is still on probation.

But he doesn’t care.

He would do it again if he felt he had to.

 

What to Do if You Anger One of These (Other) One Percenters

Most people you meet will not fit into this category. If you disrespect them, they will likely be too timid to say anything. But if you live your life with a snarky and insulting sense of humor, you stand a good chance of winding up in a faceoff.

So what should you do if you run afoul of someone like this? Basically you have two choices: apologize and be done with it, or stand up for what you said.

If you want to diffuse or avoid such a situation:

  • First, show everyone respect, especially if you don’t know them
  • If you offend someone by disrespecting them, apologize when confronted

If you don’t want to apologize:

  • Be prepared to fight, or
  • Be prepared to run!

 

So Where Does this Fit with Personal Finance?

The negative people you meet in your life, the people who always seem to be tearing others down while smiling at the same time, likely are just verbalizing their own inner insecurities. They are constantly trying to get ahead. They lack self-confidence.

The Economist recently highlighted the results of a study that gave a group of people each a different amount of money, separated by one dollar, and informed everyone of the income distribution and their place in the distribution. The participants were then each given another two dollars, with the instructions that they were to give the money either to the person ahead of them, who had a dollar more, or the person below them, who had a dollar less.

The person who was one spot from the bottom was more likely than anyone else to give the money to the person above them. The authors of the study theorize about a “last place aversion,” that we would rather help someone above us than let someone below us catch up or pass us.

The people who disrespect others probably view themselves as better than the subject of the insult, and want to keep them in their place. And this may seem to explain why many poor voters in situations where it would seem like they should support economic policies that would change regressive tax policies and eliminate loopholes and deductions that reward the wealthy. Instead they are aspirational, believing that they stand a good chance of becoming rich themselves, if they support the policies of the rich.

So our human nature, and living in a country built on innovation and ambition and pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, has created a system of wealth distribution where the person above  you is more likely to be working to keep you down.

And you damn well aren’t going to be the one on the bottom, so you push the person below you down.

This is a race to the bottom disguised as a noble pursuit of success.

 

Moral of the Story

Let me first say I don’t condone violence.

But let me also say, if you are the type of person who would carve curse words into a stranger’s coffee table, a stranger who was kind enough to offer you hospitality, then you deserve to lose a few teeth.

The problem with our society is that there are too few people who are willing to call others out for disrespect. This has only led to more disrespect, spreading it like a cancer. I honestly believe this lack of willingness to stand up for ourselves and for others has allowed this culture of bullying to spiral almost out of control. We’ve spent so much time telling kids that everyone is special and we should all get along, and you shouldn’t cause a ruckus and stand up for yourself that it might be time to unwind some of this.

Bullying is becoming the number one problem in schools. Kids are so afraid of getting picked on and insulted they can’t even learn. Much like our example about the adults who would rather give to the person above them and keep the person below them down, kids are so worried about success that they must constantly view themselves as being “one step from the bottom.” I think we’d find that most bullies are victims of bullying themselves.

We must redefine success from its current zero sum game, winner takes all place to one where a rising tide lifts all boats. Not helping each other is keeping everyone down.

The story above about my friend James actually started ten years prior with bullying. He was a little guy and got bullied a lot. And it stopped when he confronted a bully and put him in his place. If you think James gets bullied by anyone today, you’d be wrong.

So is James a bully? Maybe the person on the other end might think so, but I’ve seen him confront bullies in public and even step in between a knife wielding bum and some truly scared people. He stands up to the bullies, even when the person being bullied is afraid to. I would say that the person dishing the insult is the bully. And labeling the person who said something about it a bully also has only made people even more afraid to call it out when they see it.

So what can we do?

Stopping disrespect doesn’t have to be confrontational. If someone makes a backhanded compliment or takes a joke in a group of people too far, let them know in front of everyone that you don’t appreciate it. Chances are they will agree that their behavior was childish, and they’ll never insult you again.

Doing this only helps you, and it actually might help the next person this individual will insult by making the insulter less likely to do it in the future.

And if we stop disrespecting ourselves and start looking for ways to bring others up, we’ll find that it’s more fun to look outward than always at our own shortcomings.

So what can we do to shift our society towards one that builds each other up?

How many more kids are going to have to take their own lives before we get a handle on the culture of disrespect and bullying?

 

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