I think most of us understand the concept of “don’t be an asshole”. If we all simply lived by this precept, life would be so much better. Pity, then, that there are so many people out there who act like assholes, spoiling it for everyone!
I think the problem is that most people, when they act like assholes, don’t think they’re being assholes. They think they are justified. Now, from where we, as observers, stand, we don’t see the justification or don’t agree with the justification, so all we see are assholes. But from their perspective, they are not being assholes: they are delivering righteous justice.
I think the key to learning to really, really not be an asshole is to learn to disbelieve in any justification you have for being an asshole. Assholes always think they are justified. So if you find yourself wanting to hurt someone (physically or verbally)… just don’t. If you think they’ve earnt it… just don’t. Never take revenge. Never deliver that snappy comeback. Try to be kind, or at least neutral, even to those who are not kind to you.
Social Justice types are often guilty of verbal violence in the name of getting people to stop being assholes. But in practice this never helps; no one learns anything by being verbally attacked. You can’t reshape another person like you’d shape a piece of metal with beats of a hammer. “Call outs” become simply an excuse to indulge in violence.
I’ve been attempting to practice this style of nonviolence for some time. Occasionally people are surprised that I’m being so kind to people who don’t “deserve” it. I don’t feel like I’m being especially enlightened, I just feel like I’m not indulging in unnecessary violence.
If I had kids, I would hope to teach them this: if someone attacks you, they’re engaging in violence. If you attack them back, you’re engaging in violence. It’s the same thing. Being the second person in this chain may be slightly more understandable, but it is just as unkind, just as immoral. People who engage in violence always think they are justified. If you want to be better than that, then never believe in your own attempts at justification.
Occasionally some amount of violence might be necessary to truly defend yourself against other violence. I suppose this is okay. But I find that such situations are much rarer than situations where I’m tempted to engage in “justified” violence. I suppose you simply need to weigh up the situation using the most impartial perspective you can. If you find that you need to use violence in this way often, either you are in a very dangerous environment (in which case, get out!) or you are still considering gratuitous violence “justified”. Another test is to observe what has come out of your use of violence. If you’ve only succeeded in hurting others and inspiring them to be cruel to you again, then you need to rethink things.