Don’t Be An A##hole

Warning # 1: If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then be forewarned that this blog post has pretty much nothing to do with data or analytics at all. It will contain no pretty data visualizations and no insight gleaned from data.

Warning # 2: As you may have gathered from the title of this post, I’m going to be using some choice words. I don’t do this to be crass or crude, but simply to drive my point home.

So, if you’re okay with the above, read on! If not, no worries—skip this one and come back next time—I promise the next one will get back to data.

My Simple Philosophy of Life
This weekend, my wife and I were counseling our children on how to deal with various situations at school and with friends, how to stick up for others, how to be supportive, etc. In general, we were just trying to teach our kids to treat everyone with respect. So, I thought it was a perfect time for me to reveal my simple, four-word philosophy on how to live your life:

Don’t Be An Asshole

Okay, perhaps I shouldn’t be cursing in front of my children, but they are teenagers now and I know they’ve heard it all before. Besides, I just can’t think of a word that has the same impact as “asshole.” I could try “jerk”, but it’s not the same and any other word I choose would probably be a curse word as well, so we’re going to stick with “asshole.”

So what does that mean exactly? Well, it’s pretty much just the Golden Rule—treat others the way you’d like them to treat you. It’s pretty simple, just put in my own less-eloquent wording.

Here are a few examples:

When interacting with your family, don’t be an asshole.

When interacting with your friends, don’t be an asshole.

When interacting with colleagues, don’t be an asshole.

When interacting with schoolmates, don’t be an asshole.

When interacting with your supervisor, don’t be an asshole.

When interacting with your subordinates, don’t be an asshole.

When interacting with someone who looks different than you, don’t be an asshole.

When interacting with someone with different beliefs than you, don’t be an asshole.

When interacting with someone who doesn’t fit your own ideas of cultural “norms”, don’t be an asshole.

When commenting on something on the internet (even when its anonymous), don’t be an asshole.

It’s really that simple. I mean, just ask yourself this simple question: How hard is it to go through life just not being an asshole? It’s pretty damned easy actually. I’m not talking about perfection here; I’m not talking about selling everything you own and giving all your money to charity; I’m not talking about dedicating every free moment you have volunteering. All those things are really great and I have nothing but respect for people who donate their time and money to causes they are passionate about (I do the same)—but here I’m just talking about being decent to each other. That’s where everything starts. If you live a life based on treating others with respect, compassion, and empathy, then you’ll inevitably help people in need, defend those who cannot defend themselves, etc.

And yet, people are assholes to each other every single minute of every single day. At school, kids pick on others for looking different, acting different, speaking different, thinking different. Hell, kids are brutal to other kids for every possible difference you can think of. But adults are not much better. We do the exact same thing as kids (but with much bigger consequences), being assholes to each other for every imaginable difference (or perceived difference) we can find—race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual preference, political party, weight, you name it! And when we’re really feeling like assholes, we like to get a bunch of people just like us to target another group of people and our entire group will be assholes to their entire group. It’s almost as if being assholes is written into our DNA!

I ask you, what good has ever come from being an asshole? When teenagers are assholes to other teenagers, it leads to fights, depression, drugs, suicide. When political parties are assholes to other political parties, it leads to deadlock and impotent governance. When coworkers are assholes to each other, it leads to a toxic and inefficient work environment. When spouses are assholes to each other, it leads to a miserable home life and has a lasting impact on their children’s lives. And when leaders of one country are assholes to the leaders of another, it leads to war, destruction, and sometimes genocide. What would happen if we just stopped being assholes to each other?

Now don’t get me wrong—I’m not claiming to be perfect. I’m far from it. I make mistakes; I hurt people I love; I pass judgement on others; In short, sometimes I act like an asshole. But, generally speaking, I do my best day in and day out to not be an asshole. Before speaking or acting, during every encounter in my life—be it at work, at home, at the grocery store, waiting in line, driving, or whatever—I just try to not be an asshole. And, so far, it seems to be working.

So, my advice to my kids is my advice to everyone—friends, family, corporate leaders, internet commenters, school children, politicians, supervisors, subordinates, government officials, etc.—please, don’t be an asshole. I guarantee we’ll all be better off.

Header Image: A photo of Bill Murray in his role as a classic asshole, Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). Photo from “The Iris”.

Ken Flerlage, December 4, 2017


  1. Hi Ken
    I really love all your data visualization work. Your agility in using the Tableau tool fascinates me. You are a real source of inspiration.
    By the way, this post is a lesson of life.
    Thank you for everything you do for the community and continue like this.

  2. Love this post! Well said.

    1. Thanks Anna :) It's a little outside of the theme of my blog, but I felt like I had to share.


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