NO MORE NICE GUY
Greg Bruce tries really hard to be an arsehole for a week
Greg Bruce tries really hard to be an arsehole for a week
As my train was rolling into Britomart, just before 8am one recent Monday, the man in the window seat next to me stood up. My impulse was to get up and let him out, but I forced myself not to move until the train came to a complete stop.
I can’t emphasise enough what a difficult decision this was. He was stranded, crammed in there next to the window, delayed on his day’s journey by as much as four seconds. I felt my heart speed up and my stomach sink. I felt terrible. Every part of me screamed, “Stand up, arsehole!”
That was the only bad thing I did on Monday.
I LIKE TO think my editor gave me this assignment because I’m a nice guy — or at least because I’m inoffensive. I hate the thought of offending someone. If I get into a disagreement with a person, even someone obviously morally defunct, I can feel bad about it for years afterwards.
I apologise constantly and to everyone. I apologise to people for my preschool children, even when they haven’t done anything especially wrong, and then I feel terrible, because my children shouldn’t have my neuroses imposed on them. What makes someone an arsehole? On
Shortland Street, it’s always so obvious, but research into workplace bullying in the United States has found that roughly 50 per cent of people say they’ve been the subject of bullying or have witnessed it first-hand, while only about 0.5 per cent say they have bullied.
“Asshole” is a word I use reasonably often in my writing. My editor always changes the spelling to “arsehole”. Because she is in charge, the version you are reading will almost certainly use “arsehole” but I guarantee in the original draft I will have written “asshole”. Who’s the arsehole in this situation? Me for being obstinate or her for using artificial workplace power dynamics to get her way? Does it differ depending on who you ask?
ON TUESDAY morning, the woman next to me on the train got off at Newmarket. After letting her out, I sat back down and put my bag on the newly empty seat. There were no more stops I had set two ground rules for the week: I wouldn’t shit in my own nest and I wouldn’t do anything that would make anybody’s day worse. before our arrival at Britomart and nobody else was waiting to sit, but that wasn’t the point. People who put their bag on empty seats are telling the world something very specific about themselves.
That morning, at the electronic turnstiles at Britomart, it suddenly struck me that a real arsehole would hold everybody up by not bothering to get out his Hop card until he reached the front of the queue. I didn’t have the courage to do it, but thought is the precursor to action.
I arrived at work, as usual, well before my colleagues. Several months ago my editor, who sits opposite me, pointed out that if the blind isn’t down on the window next to me, the morning sun shines straight into her eyes. When she’d told me that, I had immediately set a recurring reminder on my Outlook calendar, synced with my phone calendar, to close it at 8am every weekday. I’ve made it my first act on arrival at work every morning since.
But on that Tuesday, when my phone vibrated and I saw the familiar imperative, “Blind down”, I looked at it and thought, “Not today,” then I went around and raised all the surrounding blinds. I then raised the seat of her chair as high as it would go.
She came in not long after and sat down. She didn’t comment about the chair. She looked into the blinding sun and politely asked if I could lower the blind, which I did, apologising for not having done so earlier.
I changed the height of another colleague’s chair too but she didn’t come in that day. MY FIRST big planned action for the week was for 10am that day at the weekly meeting in which editors and journalists gather to come up with story ideas for the weekend newspapers. My plan was to turn up 10 minutes late, throw open the door and say, “Sorry I’m late, I really couldn’t be bothered this morning.”
Just before the meeting, I told my editor about the plan, both to motivate me to go through with it and as insurance against disciplinary action. “Good idea, but I wouldn’t say ‘sorry’,” she told me. That thought had never occurred to me.
She left for the meeting on time and I remained at my desk, where I felt a steady rise in my pulse and general level of terror. At 10.10am I left my desk and strode through the office, taking deep, deliberate breaths or hyperventilating. As I got closer to the meeting room, I felt my legs weakening and I knew the only way to overcome my body’s physical rebellion was to maintain a high level of energy. Any physical expression of weakness would mean certain failure.
I threw open the door. One of the senior reporters was in the middle of saying something important-sounding regarding the election. Nobody looked up. It would have been incredibly rude of me to speak in that moment. The words I had been repeating all morning locked in my throat. There was a spare chair at the end of the room. I walked towards it. There was no gap in the conversation. I sat down silently.
A few minutes later, I received a text message from my editor, sitting just a few seats away. It read: “My story where I try and fail to be an arsehole for a week…”
About an hour after the meeting finished, I inadvertently touched my armpit and found it soaking wet.
I HAD set two ground rules for the week: I wouldn’t shit in my own nest and I wouldn’t do anything that would make anybody’s day worse. When I told people about the rules, they generally thought the first was sound, but the second was ridiculous — impossible for a story in which the idea is to be an arsehole.
I didn’t care though. If I was going to do this story, I was going to do it my way. If I don’t have baseline morals that hold firm in the face of low-rent, psycho-social stunt journalism, then what do I have?
Having said that, one of my colleagues