As it happens, I was bopping around the Internet the other day, not exactly minding my own business but instead throwing open every door I came across and rifling through for treasures, a bit like a video game protagonist looking for stray gold coins in NPC closets. You know, what people used to call “surfing the web.”
In my own case, this involved following breadcrumbs left for me by the algorithms that know me so well. Google Now cards. Promoted social media posts. I was baited and clicked. And because the AI of it all is getting better, I kept stumbling on items that genuinely captivated my interest.
The crown jewel of the day was an admittedly rather thin article about subreddit r/AmItheAsshole (or AITA in subreddit speak).
Briefly, this particular forum is a place where people can post their interpersonal conflicts, and Internet strangers can chime in with their opinion on whether the original poster (OP) was “the asshole” in the conflict or if “the asshole” was the person that they were in conflict with.
I spent some time looking around the forum. Like anything on Reddit, the best reading happens when the OP writes clearly, coherently, and comprehensively. And in the case of AITA, I found myself most drawn to the situations where things were muddy. Not clearcut.
I Almost Didn’t Look Around the Forum, But I’m Glad I Did
I’m glad I went into the forum and looked around — because I almost didn’t. Its name turned me off. Not because of profanity. There’s really only one issue with profanity in my book, and it’s essentially as Kurt Vonnegut once said, “profanity and obscenity entitle people who don’t want unpleasant information to close their ears and eyes to you.”
Since I’m generally comfortable with unpleasant information and have been known to actively seek it out, profanity doesn’t bother me.
No, what troubled me about the name was the underlying premise. “Am I the asshole?” as a question implies that there is an asshole in every interpersonal conflict. This is untrue. Interpersonal conflict doesn’t slice neatly into equal portions of sinner and saint. There are conflicts where everyone acts janky, and there are ones where no one does and things are still difficult.
And furthermore, the assignation of blame or fault is usually at best an ancillary concern. Finding someone to blame usually doesn’t help to fix the problem (particularly if everyone involved doesn’t have an accountability mindset, something I talk more about in my third book, Dealing with Difficult Metamours).
So I almost didn’t read any of it, thinking the whole premise of the forum was oversimplified and a flawed premise.
But I’m glad I did.
Because I soon discovered the each thread had a voting system, one that allowed for other possibilities:
|You’re the Asshole (and the other party is not)||YTA|
|You’re Not the Asshole (and the other party is)||NTA|
|Everyone Sucks Here||ESH|
|No Assholes Here||NAH|
|Not Enough Info||INFO|
Yup, there’s a “no assholes here” option. Real life works that way.
There’s Not Always a Jerk
It’s definitely something to keep in mind. There’s not always a jerk in an interpersonal situation.
I’ve seen grave harm done to individuals and institutions by people who are working within this paradigm. Who have come into conflict with another person and fully subscribe to the belief that there is one — and exactly one — asshole in every situation. And that they better well make sure that everyone believes it’s the other person and not them.