It’s called the Wheaton Rule, or Wheaton’s Law (after the Star Trek The Next Generation actor and gamer), but it’s just common sense: Don’t be a dick. Don’t intentionally be mean to other people. Don’t bring other people down to make yourself feel better. Don’t make other people the butt of your jokes if they don’t like it. Don’t talk crap about people behind their backs to make yourself seem cool.
This year, as a lot of powerful people (i.e. men) learn the hard way the karmic consequences of being a dick, I feel we could use a reminder of the dickish things we do, even when we don’t realize it. Because it’s not just exposing our genitals to subordinates at work, or obscenely taunting an opponent during an online game, or whatever it is your neighbour Jean did 10 years ago that made her an enemy for life. Being a dick is something we all do a little bit on a regular basis, sometimes out of emotional insecurity, or jealousy, or frustration, or insensitivity, or laziness, and often without even knowing it.
The Internet makes the problem worse, and not just because of online anonymity. Public forums like Twitter encourage us to put on a show, to measure our worth based on how many people click that “like” button. And unfortunately one of the simplest ways to rack up those likes can be declaring an enemy and rallying people to the moral high ground, no matter how high that ground actually is.
It’s one thing when a serial abuser like Harvey Weinstein won’t stop until he’s publicly humiliated. It’s another when someone on Twitter says something well-meaning but insufficiently woke and you decide to make a public spectacle of how they should feel bad about it.
It’s one thing when you don’t like a movie or television show or piece of music or visual art. It’s another when you decide to lob public insults at artists, piling on to a bandwagon that mocks people for their perceived failures.
It’s one thing when the leader of a country is an insecure, inexperienced man whose immature outbursts can cause real damage to many people. It’s another when we teach our children that mocking people for their hair, their skin, their weight and their poor vocabulary is okay as long as you disagree with them about politics.
It’s one thing when a white supremacist shows up at a rally and says something anti-Semitic. It’s another when you dismiss an entire human being as disposable because she happened to naively vote for someone whose party she supports, and who promised her a better life with well-paying jobs.
It’s one thing when you’re gently teasing a friend to help him get over a silly insecurity. It’s another when you keep going long after he’s shown himself to be clearly uncomfortable with how you’re treating him.
It’s one thing when you’re having an animated discussion with someone in the hopes of teaching each other something. It’s another when you’re involved in such a discussion with no desire to learn, when your only motivation is to shoot down every point the other person is making and get in as many opportunities as possible to call that person stupid.
It’s one thing to calmly assert your rights when you’re speaking with a customer service agent, or to ask for a second opinion when speaking with a physician, or to ask for a decision to be reconsidered. It’s another to scream at someone because you don’t like how they’re applying a company policy, or failing to solve your problem, or upholding the law.
It’s one thing when you’re dealing with one of the few people in the world who is truly, irredeemably evil. It’s another when you have the choice to make an enemy or a friend, and you pick the former because it’s easier and makes you feel better faster.
There’s a lot of awful in this world without good people intentionally adding to it.
Nobody’s perfect. I’m certainly not. I could be better, nicer, kinder, more forgiving, more supportive. I’m not sure if there even is such an attainable ideal of good for us mere humans, or if attaining it would even be good for our personal health. There is such a thing as being too generous.
But let’s start small. Let’s support each other when we’re on the same team, even if we may not see eye to eye on everything. Let’s be open to learning from each other rather than just calling each other out. Let’s recognize that, for most people, a private friendly conversation based on curiosity and understanding can do so much more to change people’s behaviour than a holier-than-thou public shaming filled with hyperbole.
And let’s be more proactive. Go out of our way to make people feel included, make them feel important, make them feel cool. Take a moment out of our day (this one would be a great one) to send a friend a note or give them a call to tell them how much we appreciate them. Use “we” more often than “you.”
If given the choice between making people happy and making them miserable, all things being equal, choose the former.
In short, don’t be a dick.
Merry Christmas everyone. Wishing you a new year with fewer dicks and more … opposite-of-dicks.