The Power of the Jerk-O-Meter!

Despite many acts of kindness shown during these times of COVID-19, there remains a certain harshness around the edges of human interactions these days. Callousness and periodic bursts of nastiness occasionally creep into interactions. Not a lot but enough for me and probably others to take notice. Proof positive is a recent conversation I had with a cashier at a local grocery story.

“Earlier today, as I have been instructed to do, I kindly asked two people to stand six feet behind the person in front of them in the checkout line and both adamantly refused. Neither had on a mask and one even uttered a profanity at me and walked out of the store.” 

Are COVID-19 related civility lapses running rampant all over the place? Maybe not. But there are pockets where this stuff lingers. Hey, am I off the mark with this assertion? If you think so, fire off an e-mail to me. Just make sure that it’s, eh, nice! 

Now we could argue for days on end as to the extent and root causes of the erosion of civility. Whatever the causes, we reside somewhere in la-la land if we haven’t noticed that general civility, basic courtesy and overall genuine regard for others have been added to the endangered species list in many interactions.

So what does this look like? Belligerent refusal to abide by the advice to practice mask wearing and social distancing. Unnecessary “road rage”, foul language, flaming e-mails, ill-tempered voice mails, condescending attitudes, temper tantrums… and the list goes on and on. 

So what’s the answer? Can we force civility troglodytes to start behaving right? Well, maybe so.

Years ago on an American Airlines flight, I came across an article by Jim Shahin, “Takes Off” in the American Way magazine. It talks about the power and potential of a “Jerk-O-Meter” that analyzes your voice tone and cadence while you’re on the phone, Shahin explained. “Based on your performance, the phone displays messages ranging from ‘Stop being a jerk!’ to ‘You’re a smooth talker.'” 

Now that may work if you’re the jerk but what if the jerk (or jerkette) is someone else? Shahin offered his own solution – The portable jerk device, or PJD. “When a guy cuts in front of you in line, pull out the PJD and it goes off like a siren,” he wrote. 

Now here are other ways the device could work: 

For those who act like idiots when encouraged to wear masks and practice social distancing: The PJD releases an electrical bolt into them so strong that the offender’s hair shoots straight up (Don King style).

For those who don’t wash their hands after using the restroom: The PJD activates a water sprinkler that drenches them with hot water and soap as they exit the bathroom. 

For people who fail to say thanks: The PJD blares out a series of volume-escalating “You’re welcome Tom! You’re welcome Kim! You’re welcome Pete!” 

For those who send nasty e-mails or post offensive stuff on social media: The PJD releases a puff of smoke from the offender’s computer, dials the local fire department, then routes the e-mail to the sender’s family and pastor.

For those who text while drivingThe PJD activates a hand from the dashboard that slaps them upside the head.

For screamers and cussers (#@xz^&*+%!): The PJD turns on this message: “This is a recording. Please repeat what you just said slowly so that we can get your comments into the court proceedings and worldwide web!”

I make this assertion: Being civil is good for your health! Don’t believe me? Just think back to a time when you did something nice to someone and how it made you feel. If any of you have towork really hard to recall such an incident, go ahead and take a little extra time. Now contrast that to a time when you felt lousy after generating an act of incivility. 

For me personally, on that plane I leaped up from my newspaper to assist a person who had been struggling to squeeze his bag into a crammed storage bin. Not only was he so grateful, I was engulfed with warm feelings afterward. Once my flight landed, I set out to do random acts of civility for the rest of the day. And the interesting thing is this: My “feeling good” got exponentially better upon each new act of kindness. 

And later, after a thorough physical, my doctor inquired about why my vital signs were so positive, my blood pressure in particular.

My reply? “I’ve been walking a lot, watching my diet and being awfully nice to people, Doc!” I then told him that my recently purchased Jerk-O-Meter helped keep my nastiness in check – well, most of the time anyway.

Now go be civil!

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Echo World, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at


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