Posted in Mind

How Not to be a Jerk When Someone’s Life Changes

Dr. Oz from the The Dr. Oz Show spoke at my son’s college graduation recently. He gave Ten Keys for Life with one key being:

No one is a jerk on purpose, so give people the benefit of doubt. Don’t judge others too quickly.”

Dr. Oz - speaking at West Chester University ... Photo by Wendy Mortimer

Though I don’t ever want to be a jerk – on purpose or accidently – I know I can be one sometimes. I say things I shouldn’t. I say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I ask too many questions. But I’m trying to learn how not to be a jerk. To me the opposite of being a jerk is being kind …. so I shoot for kindness, which means considering other’s point of view.

Because I’m familiar with being a jerk when I don’t want to, I assume it happens to others also. As Dr. Oz said, “No one is a jerk on purpose.”

So I try to give others the benefit of doubt when they say something that is unkind. I assume people mean well but they don’t realize how what they say might come across. Often I brush it off and move on. But for certain things I know if people had more information, they won’t be a jerk without knowing it.

I’ve decided today’s the day to tackle an issue …


On Friday, May 20th, it was seven years since I almost died in an accident.

Each year, this time kinda stinks. I am edgy. I get annoyed quickly. And yes, I’m probably even more jerky than normal (though my family doesn’t want to tell me for fear I’ll bite their head off)

In the middle of being on edge, I spend time thinking about almost dying, going through the trauma and recovering from the nasty injuries. I find reflecting on the journey is unavoidable and painful … but helpful.  This unwanted-forced-on-me experience has taught me a few things.

I’ve learned …

  1. Not to give pat answers.
  2. To live with the mystery of why.
  3. That all losses need to be grieved.
  4. To acknowledge the pain people have.
  5. Physical wounds aren’t the only ones that need to heal.
  6. That time alone doesn’t heal wounds… wounds also need to receive proper care to heal.
  7. To live in the moment … the past is gone, the future is unknown. I have today. Now.
  8. Our bodies are stronger than we realize if we give them care, exercise and nutrition.

And the list goes on …

Sometimes when I mention what I’ve learned or when I have an opportunity based on my experience … people assume that I’m now grateful for what I went through. That I’m thankful for the torturous experience. When I dare mention otherwise … there’s two general responses.

The kind responses are an understanding nod or comment along the lines of “I’m sorry that you were injured.” Or simply an “I’m sorry” or “It sucks that you were injured.”

Those responses are kind!

Some other responses are not kind (and I’m only pointing these out because I assume you want to be kind and I’m here to help) Eyebrows are raised. I’m gently chided for wishing the accident had never happened. I’m reminded to be thankful for all things. Bible verses are quoted. I’m told that I’m a better person now. I’m told everything happens for a reason (If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that, I could have that beach house I dream of)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for what I’ve learned through the experience, for some opportunities I’ve had and for all the wonderful people I’ve met. I am thankful that my body has recovered better than expected.

But I would prefer to skip the pain, the trauma, the lifestyle changes and the daily effects I live with. Yes, I know the effects could be worse … but I also know that the accident is the reason I have the effects I do have, so therefore I wish it had not happened. But I can’t change it, so I aim to make the most of the life I do have.

My legs — 'courtesy' of the accident on May 20, 2004

I live with pain, limitations and a deformed leg. If I should be grateful or even feel ‘blessed’ for that … then shouldn’t you be grateful for the unwanted things in your life? Throw away the hair color and the wrinkle cream. Celebrate your aches and pains. Hell … say hallelujah every time your memory fails you!

In response to Dr. Oz’s message I’m going to try harder to assume no one wants to be a jerk … I’m giving everyone the benefit of doubt. And I’m telling everyone … please be kind to people you interact with by acknowledging their pain/loss/changes without minimizing, glamorizing or religionizing the situation, because that will only add to their pain, not help them.


When someone says something unkind to you, how did you respond? Are you able to give them the benefit of doubt … if so, how?
If interested in hearing more about my recovery from the accident, check out my memoir, Because I Can. The book doesn’t have the edge or tone of this post, because I had good editors that helped me tamper my writing in the book.

 For future thoughts of mine … subscribe to my blog here.


  1. Shawn Smucker
    June 01, 2011 | 11:28 AM| Reply

    One of my favorite quotes on the topic of kindness:

     Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far
    surer of what is kind than I am of what is true.  ~Robert Brault

    Thanks for the post, Janet.

    • Janet Oberholtzer
      June 01, 2011 | 03:00 PM| Reply

      Great quote Shawn … thanks for sharing!

    • Janet Oberholtzer
      June 01, 2011 | 03:00 PM| Reply

      Great quote Shawn … thanks for sharing!

  2. Andilit
    June 01, 2011 | 11:32 AM| Reply

    I am totally with you on this.  While I am, on some deep level that I can’t see most days, thankful for the painful experiences of my life (none of which compare to yours) because they have shaped me into who I am today, I am the only on who can say that.  It’s my job to accept my life.  It’s the job of the people who love me to help me along in it by supporting me, by sitting with me when I cry, by just say, as you noted, “I’m so sorry.”  I don’t know why we – especially we Christians – have to pretend like things don’t hurt and scar us.  Why can’t we just be in the pain with each other . . . a kind hand and a closed mouth.

    Thanks again.

    • Janet Oberholtzer
      June 01, 2011 | 03:01 PM| Reply

      Thanks Andi! 
      Love your last line … that is perfect!

    • Janet Oberholtzer
      June 01, 2011 | 03:01 PM| Reply

      Thanks Andi! 
      Love your last line … that is perfect!

  3. Becky
    June 01, 2011 | 12:17 PM| Reply

    “To live with the mystery of why” I need to sit with this some more…

    • Janet Oberholtzer
      June 01, 2011 | 03:01 PM| Reply

      That’s an ongoing process for me … not just about my life, but about many things in life.

    • Janet Oberholtzer
      June 01, 2011 | 03:01 PM| Reply

      That’s an ongoing process for me … not just about my life, but about many things in life.

  4. JK
    June 01, 2011 | 02:07 PM| Reply

    How do I respond to unkind words? ….I bite my tongue because when I’m angry, I’m the one who feels bad. The person saying something unkind is the one who has the battle. I always try to give the benefit of the doubt. I don’t walk in their shoes. Rude remarks keep me aware of the kind of person I do not wish to be.
    “Not everyone is my friend, but everyone is my teacher.” One of my favorite quotes.Thanks for the post Janet!

    • Janet Oberholtzer
      June 01, 2011 | 03:02 PM| Reply

      Love this quote … “Not everyone is my friend, but everyone is my teacher.”  
      Thanks for sharing it!

    • Janet Oberholtzer
      June 01, 2011 | 03:02 PM| Reply

      Love this quote … “Not everyone is my friend, but everyone is my teacher.”  
      Thanks for sharing it!

  5. Foodie McBody
    June 01, 2011 | 03:13 PM| Reply

    It’s ironic how the most unkind comments can be masked as super positive, ie “It was meant to happen,” “Everything happens for a reason!” or “You should be grateful it wasn’t worse!” (when it already feels like the worst imaginable thing) People who had good intentions said some things that were just awful (IMHO) when I suffered a great loss years ago. I found that the kindest, most honest and comforting thing I could hear was, “THIS SUCKS.”

    • Janet Oberholtzer
      June 01, 2011 | 05:07 PM| Reply

      I agree with you, I think people have good intentions … and that’s why I often let it roll off my back. Yet I’m coming to realize I’ve been given an education (unwanted one, but nonetheless, an education) so I decided it would be kind of me to share what I’ve learned.

  6. KCLAnderson (Karen)
    June 01, 2011 | 04:07 PM| Reply

    The whole idea that no one wants to be a jerk is so right on!! And yet, we make assumptions that when someone is a jerk that they really mean it.

    It’s been only recently (the past couple of years) that I have learned this lesson (to just acknowledge that it sucks instead of trying to make it all better or spout off an unhelpful “platitude.”
    And just yesterday something happened that really made me think. I was kind of upset about something, distracted. I was driving home and didn’t stop completely at a stop sign…as I rolled through, I noticed that there was a driver wanting to turn left and that it was indeed her turn. As I rolled by, she yelled at me (our windows were open) and said, “nice stop!” in a mean, sarcastic tone. I was stung for a few reasons. First, I knew she was right. Second, it felt bad…in fact, I almost cried! And third (and this is the kicker), I know the woman but she didn’t recognize me. I am not friends with her on Facebook but we have many friends in common. I decided to send her a private message, apologizing. To be honest, my motives were not simple either: I sincerely wanted to apologize, but I also wanted her to be aware that sniping at someone isn’t always the best way to handle something…

    And finally, it made me think about the times when I’ve done something similar and it made me not want to ever be like that again.

    I love your blog Janet…and I am so glad to have met you!!

    • Janet Oberholtzer
      June 01, 2011 | 05:10 PM| Reply

      Your first two sentences say it better than I did … I used to think someone was a jerk if they did something unkind … now I realize very few people are jerks on purpose.

      Good for you in addressing the situation that happened yesterday!

  7. Diona
    June 01, 2011 | 04:26 PM| Reply

    You are the second person who said the response, “everything happens for a reason,” to a tragedy was an unkind sentiment. However, when I was 12 my mother died. She was 39. It was an aneurysm and totally out of nowhere. The only thing I could hold on to was that there was some larger reason for it.  God needed her, or I was to be someone different than I would have been w/her. Essentially, my surviving depended on accepting there was a reason behind this unspeakable event.
    I to this day believe it.
    My now 3 yr old had open heart surgery at 6wks old. That same belief got me through, yet, another tragic event. She, thank God, has made a full recovery. It was this latter event that put my and my husband’s minds in the right perspective to weather the loss of his business and a near bankruptcy. So, yes, I do believe w/all my heart that everything does happen for a reason. We are not always able to see it or know the reason, but to accept it as part of life is sometimes more cathartic than anything else. To know that we are not in utter control (whether you believe in God or not) is someplace to work from when all mental footong is gone. So, please don’t dismiss the concept  or categorize it as uninformed dismissal of your pain.
    btw: every april i am a cranky, emotional mess for a couple of weeks. mom died in april. It’s been 28 yrs.

    • Janet Oberholtzer
      June 01, 2011 | 05:47 PM| Reply

      Losing your mother at such a young age had to be hard then and every day/year since … I’m sorry. My counselor said that our sub-conscious remembers more than our memory even does, so that’s why we’re more emotional around the time of loss/trauma/etc.  

      I’m so glad your daughter is doing well. 

      Isn’t it interesting how different concepts affect different people? It shows how unique we all are. The popular saying “Everything happens for a reason” has given you comfort … but for me it was the one of the concepts that was detrimental to my emotional/spiritual recovery and was a factor in my year or more of depression.

      The concept that God causes everything to happen for a reason was almost a part of my DNA … it was part of my Mennonite upbringing and of the conservative evangelical world that I was a part of for 20+ years. 
      I wrestled with that concept and did not dismiss it easily. I researched, read, asked, prayed and studied about it. 

      For me to make ‘sense’ of my world and to find hope again … I had to be willing to step outside of some familiar boxes. I had to learn to live with the mysteries of life. I went through a major season of renewal and some of that was looking at ‘reasons’ differently. (I wrote a little about my renewal here …. And I write more about all this in my hope-to-be-published soon book)  

      I agree that we aren’t in control … and that we don’t and won’t know everything and/or have all the answers, but why does that mean there has to be a reason for everything? 

  8. Wearingmascara
    June 03, 2011 | 03:00 AM| Reply

    Thank you for this post! I really have to remind myself that people don’t mean to be “jerks.” Sometimes, I get so mad at people, but it’s important to realize they probably don’t mean to be like that.

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