Talking to the jerk in the mirror |

Talking to the jerk in the mirror

Derek Franz
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

“What a man thinks of himself is what determines, or rather, indicates, his fate.” – Henry David Thoreau

The disappointment in my dad’s voice was palpable over the phone that sunny Wednesday afternoon. His 60th birthday was Thursday, Nov. 3, and we’d planned to backpack in the desert like old times. It had been 10 years since our annual trips faded into memories. So it was with a heavy heart I told him I couldn’t go.

The decision to make a last-minute doctor’s appointment was not an easy one. I don’t know if I’ll have the same opportunity with my dad again, now that I know how years fall away like sand cliffs on the California coast.

The medical procedure was not life and death, but it was important and Friday was the only day to do it. I felt like I was being selfish again.

Selfishness is one of the reasons I hadn’t made it on a trip with Dad in so long. For years, I chose to use all my time for climbing trips instead. Although that wasn’t the case last week, I felt responsible for a wealth of missed opportunities.

I apologized so profusely and regretfully on the phone that my dad basically, in his regretful voice, told me to shut up. When I hung up, I felt even angrier at myself. This was on top of my rage from reading the newspaper that morning.

Today’s politics and letters to the editor fill me with disgust. There is a palpable sense of urgency and self-preservation buzzing through society – a sense that it’s fast becoming every man for himself.

Commuter traffic is a good analogy: I don’t leave the left lane because I can’t trust that the line of cars will let me back in when I need to make a turn down the road. It seems the politics, business and leadership strategies of today are much the same – self serving.

It’s hard to do the right thing for the greater good when it seems more likely that an opportunist with a narrower mindset will only swoop in and take what otherwise might as well be mine. Survival of the fittest, they say.

Where there is power and wealth, there will be those who hunt it. I know because I have the impulse to hunt and covet it, too. Power and wealth translate into control, and control translates into a sense of confidence about the future. Thus, it is natural to want to hoard these things.

I flutter between generosity and selfishness. Sometimes I give to the point of being a fool and other times I hoard to that of being a jerk. Where is the balance? This is where I go mad.

The fact that I continue to live – requiring so many resources and space to do so – means that I will always be more of a selfish, possessive being than not. By this logic, I would be doing the world a favor by ending my life, for I would no longer consume resources that would be helpful to someone else; yet I choose to live and thereby choose my life interests ahead of everything else. So X-amount of selfishness is necessary to survive at all.

If people are so much wiser than instinctual animals, however, then where do we draw the line between personal comfort and that of the rest? Such a line is impossible to define, and that’s where decision-making gets messy. That is why I get as bogged down in personal choice as I do making an investment portfolio. I want to do what is right, but I want to stay in the black as well.

It’s hard for me to have faith that world governments will save our future, because I can’t even see in myself how I could be so selfless as to ease the congestion of commuter traffic. I see this ugliness – this undying short-sighted selfishness – that surely stains the vision of every being to a degree. I want to stamp it out, but then I would be acting self-righteously.

I must learn to forgive myself as I would an animal (if animals are considered incapable of evil), yet try to do better. That is our burden as conscious beings. If we are to be more than animals, we must be aware of the collective good. If I can’t forgive myself for pettiness even though I try to do right, I won’t forgive anyone, and that is a damned world to live in, which is why my dad didn’t like what he heard on the phone.

If I can forgive the jerk in traffic, it will be easier for me to accommodate other drivers, who will then be more likely to accommodate my needs. Then we’ll all get to a better place a lot faster.

By the way, it’s harder for jerks to realize they’re jerks when they perceive everyone else to be jerks. Let’s kill that trend with kindness.

– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Glenwood Springs. He can be reached at

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