In my early 30s, one way I would bestud my social circle with manageable testosterone was to be part of a monthly poker group made up mostly of doctors, lawyers and psychologists. Each month 8-10 of us would get together and eat, drink beer, cuss, play cards and smoke the occasional cigar. None of us were particularly skilled at poker; we mostly got together to socialize, tell off-color jokes and assorted lies and just relax and have fun. Guy fun. Except for one of us. Let’s call him … Cade.
In his professional life Cade was a “Special Master.” A Special Master is a licensed psychologist the courts appoint to provide independent, unbiased assessments, mostly about what should happen with the kids in any divorce. One thing I remember clearly about Cade is having the frequent thought, “Boy, I sure would hate to have him in the middle of my divorce.”
I thought a lot of worse things about him after he’d had a few beers. Cade, it turned out was super-competitive. Testos- terone does that to some people. A few beers made it much worse. Mix money into the scrim, and things could get out of control pretty quickly. Which they did one night when Cade was on the losing end of a “bad beat” in our poker game. He ended up flipping the table upside down, sending chips, cards and drinks all over the other players and my living-room carpet.
That should have been clue enough for me to begin severing my ties with Cade. But I don’t quit people easily. Here’s what it actually took to make me finally perform a brain-saving “jackassectomy.”
The Icing of the Shooter
I used to be a big fan of college basketball (I once wrote a novel – The Icing of the Shooter about grief and basketball; it surprised me by winning the Jack London Prize that year!). One year Stanford ended up having their first championship season in more than half a century – they survived to play the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA Final Four Tournament in San Antonio, Texas.
A week before they were scheduled to play, Cade called me up and asked if I was interested in flying down to Texas with him. Though I was, the expense and the time I would have to take off work seemed to suggest against it. But Cade had struck out five times prior trying to find someone to go with him before he called me, so he was willing to sweeten the pot.
“Tell you what,” he offered. “I have four tickets. I’ll give you one; we’ll sell the other two, take the proceeds and I’ll split them with you to cover your expenses and lost work time.”
This sounded like an offer too good to be true! So, I agreed to go. But then, as if Stanford’s heartbreaking semi-final loss to Kentucky 86-85 in overtime wasn’t enough, when we got back to Palo Alto, Cade made no mention of the money he promised to divvy up. Finally, on the drive home from the San Jose airport, I asked him for it.
“I never promised that,” he answered. “I don’t know where you got that idea.”
Well, I had no confusion about where I got that idea. And also in that moment I also had no confusion about the Jackassectomy I needed to perform on Cade. I haven’t seen him or spoken to him since.
The Toxic Five
The people in our lives who fall into the Toxic Sphere can generally be found in one of five categories: Bullies, Needers, Takers, Narcissists and Sociopaths (I’m leaving psychopaths off the list, since most of us don’t usually have them dancing around in our social circle for very long). These people can seriously elevate stress hormones to neural-impoverishing levels.
Most of these categories are probably familiar and don’t need much descrip- tion. What might help with the jackassectomy decision though – since very often toxicity is mostly a matter of degree – is to enlist a couple of allies to help us with our discernment process. Some very astute allies – our body and brain.
Mark Goulston, a neuropsychiatrist and author of the book, Just Listen!, suggests paying attention to “The Wince Factor” as we consider whether a Jackassectomy is in order. He provides a Wince Factor Scale to help with that. I’ve modified one question to reflect some of my own bias.
Here it is:
The Wince Factor Scale
(Rate the person in question on a 1-3 scale; 1= not at all; 2 = sometimes; 3 = almost always)
Does the person whine?
Does the person complain?
Does the person come off like a victim?
Does the person seem to be saying, “Feel sorry for me?”
Does the person make repeated promises they don’t keep?
Does the person cry or act deeply hurt when something doesn’t go their way?
Does the person attempt to make you feel guilty?
Does the person seem like a bottomless pit?
Do you want to avoid the person?
Does your stomach knot up when you get a phone call or email from that person?
Do you feel like yelling at that person, “Shape up!”?
Do you feel guilty because you find yourself rooting against that person?
12 or under: this person is pretty low maintenance and worth working with to improve things;
13-24: medium maintenance; do you want to invest the time and energy to make things better?;
25-36: high maintenance; perform the Jackassectomy before this person sucks the life out of you.