April 21, 2024


by: tguerry


Categories: Current Culture

Fence-Straddlers, Fanatics, and Free-Thinkers

Fence-Straddlers, Fanatics, and Free-Thinkers
(Jerks I’ve Known)

I recently heard a talk that got me thinking about the various mindsets people embody. In particular, I got to thinking about three specific fellows I’ve known over the years. I know each of them pretty well and can accurately categorize their personality models. Sometimes, a person fits the model precisely. Sometimes, they fit more than one model. And just because my acquaintances are men, that doesn’t mean these models are singularly masculine. I know plenty of women who fit them as well. See if you don’t agree.

Jerk Number One – the fence-straddler: He always portrays himself as a pragmatist and embraces agreement as a means to an end. I think of him as an ass-kisser, never willing to take a stand on any subject, even when pressed. In a mixed crowd, he tailors his language to be vague enough that everyone agrees with him, yet his words are just specific enough that diverse listeners assume he’s actually promoting their viewpoint.

While this fellow has his own agenda, above all else, he seeks to sidestep confrontation. Deep down, I’m not sure he has any serious convictions other than self-promotion. He may be the best salesman I’ve ever known because he rarely lets disagreement (or truth) get in the way of a good sales pitch.

Jerk Number Two – the fanatic fence-demolisher: I worked with this guy for many years. Even though he’s a radical firebrand for his beliefs, he’s a victim of confirmation bias. Everything he sees and hears reinforces his narrow presuppositions. He hasn’t the least inhibition when it comes to “setting the rest of us straight”, and he’s quite vocal in his opposition to various worldviews.

Before you accuse me of being judgmental towards Numero Duo, please be aware that I find him no more culpable than anyone else I’ve ever known — just more self-assured. I’m certain his confrontational style has some foundation in his childhood, and some people even find his frankness refreshing. None the less, his unfiltered “honesty” can be unproductive.

Jerk Number Three – the freethinker: Right up front, I want to more clearly define that title. Webster defines a freethinker as one who rejects religious dogma, and in some sense, I’d agree. However, in. this case I’d expand the definition to include someone who questions ALL accepted norms — religious or otherwise, and especially someone willing to question their own thinking patterns.

This fellow’s mindset could easily cause a rift between himself and the church he attends as well as the social and business groups he inhabits. He’s begun questioning and analyzing everything from traditional religious values, to cultural norms, to his own cognitive processes. In some ways, he’d be considered even less committed than jerk number one and in other ways, he’d be considered more radical than jerk number two. But, at least, he’s willing to step back and honestly assess the status-quo.

So, Let’s Name Names
Before you start thumbing through your phone list to make sure your attorney is still on speed-dial, rest assured that I’m not about to out you by name (yet). In fact, every one of those jerks I just described is me, not you. However, I’m pretty sure that anyone reading this missive, just like myself, fits at least one of those categories to varying degrees and/or given different situations.

Every last one of us adheres to one or more dysfunctional mental states even if we refuse to admit it. Human beings are broken. You’re broken. I’m broken. We’re all broken. But like those radicals in AA say, you can’t begin to fix the problem until you admit it exists, and you can’t gain an objective perspective on your own issues until you meet other people who struggle with the same issues.

So, maybe we stop fooling ourselves and get to honestly know people — not just the jerks behind their own coping masks, but jerks behind our personal masks as well.

Let’s talk. I’d really like to hear what you have to say, and it might even give me something to write about. Email me at guy@lawsoncomm.com.
I’ll buy you coffee and we can compare notes. I promise not to steal your ideas without permission.


Reality is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect.

― C.S. Lewis


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