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Chris Young

Great topic and great insights as always Bob! I've shared your post with my readers in my weekly Rainmaker 'Fab Five' blog pics of the week (found here:

Be well Bob!

-Chris Young

Hayli @ Rise Smart

Terrific discussion, and very pertinent to a situation my family is enduring right now re: my husband's job. Thanks so much!
Also, I personally have experienced the power of forgiveness in my own life, and it is truly freeing. But my strategy for coping with difficult people has always been avoidance because I'm non-confrontational, so thanks for the detachment strategy as an alternative coping method for times when you can't escape.


Hi Professor Sutton, a timely post indeed. There is clearly a fine line here between the science behind the question and perhaps the spiritual or faith-based component behind the question.

First, when the word "indifference" is used, I assume it is intended to mean a civil disobedience toward provocation. It might not be the case that the individual "doesn't care," but that they simply do not react.

To act or not to act, that is the question.

From a faith-based perspective, clearly religions differ on this issue widely. Some religions promote the notion of "turning the other cheek" or Ahimsa - that is that no act of ill on you justifies you acting with illness on another. Other religions promote the notion of struggle against injustice and jihad - that it is more noble to fight than to let injustice prevail.

From a scientific perspective, I think there is evidence behind both philosophies. Escalation and deterrence psychology have been studied quite widely, particularly during the Cold War, and I think most theories conclude that there is no strategy that converges. On the other hand, in game theory, the optimal strategy when facing a multi-period cooperate/defect game is to cooperate in period N+1 when the other player cooperates in N, and to defect in N+1 when the other play defects in N - otherwise known as tit-for-tat.

Ultimately, I think both religion and science have beaten this issue up and perhaps there isn't one universal answer that is appropriate in all contexts with all people. I know I've met 2 different kinds of bullies in my life: 1) one kind simply preyed on pushovers, those were the kind where revenge was effective in halting the bullying; 2) another kind of bully really just had no self-awareness (racists are a common example) and needed education, reflection, and patience more than a slap in the face (a slap, definitely leading to escalation).

Perhaps then the interesting question really is not so much whether to act or not to act, but rather how can we look at an asshole, and determine if they are Type 1 predator or a Type 2 ignorant? If you can type-cast the asshole, the appropriate reaction might become more clear.

Rod Johnson

A couple quick points. First, I view anger as more positive than fear. I believe that over the past six months, many have been living in fear and now they're coming out of the closet so to speak and they're angry. So I view this as a positive transition, and one that will hopefully transition again, in the recovery process to happiness.
The second point. Detachment can be an important skill to learn and practice in avoiding stress. However, even if this is taken to an extreme, it too has toxic side effects.
These are my two cents worth.


Your post is very timely. I am just getting past this sort of problem with my last job. At my last job, I had a manager which was an abusive asshole. I felt like the guy hunted me, looking for ways to get rid of me just because I wouldn't kiss his ass. I had to go to therapy weekly just to cope with this guy. He completely demoralized me, and turned me into an unsure, insecure, unproductive employee. I left at the first opportunity. After leaving that job, I had plenty of thoughts of running the guy down on his motorcycle, kicking his ass, or simply telling his family that I felt sorry for them for living with this narcissist. These thoughts haunted me constantly. No matter how hard I tried, I had so much anger that I couldn't get it out of my head. Even getting a job at company known for treating people exceptionally well and not tolerating assholes wouldn't clear these thoughts.

I wanted justice. I wanted to deliver it, and feel vindicated for what this guy did to me. Over time I had to learn to let it go. I had to learn that my anger and quest for justice was not hurting the other guy, but only hurting me. I actually had my justice, but didn’t recognize it because I didn’t deliver it. I had to learn that justice can come from elsewhere. The asshole boss that hunted me was laid off earlier this year. It would have felt better if he had been fired, but knowledge of his layoff was the best I was going to get. I finally consoled myself by realizing that I tried to help that asshole out by teaching him how to get along in the environment we were in, but he didn’t listen, and hunted me instead. He is now out of a job, and I have a better one. I have to think of that when I think of justice.

Growing up I heard all about karma, and when I was younger, I thought it was BS. It is not. We must all remember that the karma wheel may turn slowly, but it is always turning. I have witnessed it on multiple occasions now.

Thanks for writing the No Asshole Rule. It helped me cope with a really terrible work situation.

Kathy H

As a Christian, the first word that comes to my mind is "forgiveness." Like you said, you don't want to be a doormat for future abuse, but oftentimes healing can only occur if you're willing to forgive and perhaps channel the anger into praying for the opposition. If you let another person's actions get to your soul, you let them win.

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