There is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t have volunteered myself for this guestblogging gig. I’ve never been a terribly regular blogger, I’m certainly out of practice, and I was looking forward to a relaxing three-day weekend. I owe my spot here over the last few days, and my profound thanks, to Spencer for reaching out to Ned; to Ned for reaching out to me;  and to the precaffeinated Friday-morning haze that led me to assent.

I’ve been led to understand that this is a typically female type of behavior — not the caffeine addiction, but the reluctance to declare myself worthy without waiting for someone else to do so first. A few months back, in fact, Clay Shirky wrote a much-discussed post on this very hypothesis:

it looks to me like women in general, and the women whose educations I am responsible for in particular, are often lousy at those kinds of behaviors, even when the situation calls for it. They aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.

Most of the problems with Shirky’s assumption that women would actually be rewarded for acting more like men — or that “acting like a woman” and “acting like a man” were helpful terms to begin with — were rebutted at the time by, among others, Ann Friedman and Will Wilkinson. But no response I read tackled Shirky’s assumption that we should be okay with having one set of behaviors for social life, and another for professional life — and that acting like an asshole when engaging in the former is bad, but when engaging in the latter is necessary and productive. Being a self-promoting blowhard is only necessary and productive, of course, if other people respect you and treat you well for it; they only respect you and treat you well for it if they regard it as necessary and productive for professional success.

It’s an awful vicious cycle –and one that results in a lot more misery for all involved. The fact of the matter is that it’s in everyone’s best interest to punish assholery wherever found. The workplace is, among other things, just another social environment; that self-promoting go-getter who seemed like such a catch upon first impression at an interview may not be so appealing in the next cubicle over, day in and day out. And if an employer doesn’t artificially limit himself or herself to the prospects who call attention to themselves most obnoxiously, he or she might actually come up with a better candidate who would otherwise have been ignored.

In theory, this sounds impossible — how can an employer work to find candidates who won’t show themselves? (Maybe they can send ICE after them?) But the general idea that undue self-promotion is a good thing manifests itself in a lot of small behaviors that are easy to change. Take this story from last year about a woman who didn’t apply for a job because she met only five of the six listed “requirements” in the posting, while plenty of men who met only two or three sent in resumes without a second thought. The reporter echoed her source in calling this an illustration of women being “too modest” — as if it were normal to assume that a “job requirement” was in fact a serving suggestion. Doesn’t it make more sense for employers to write job postings that actually reflect the position, rather than assuming that applicants are assholes who will inflate their abilities?

If the professional is social, the converse is also true: especially in social relationships built on shared interests, like politics and writing and writing about politics, getting to know someone ought to make you more invested in his or her success, and more inclined to help him or her put himself/herself in the best professional position possible. That kind of investment is what scenes are about. (Heck, it’s what some of the best traditions of the blogosphere are about.) And the patience, generosity and reciprocity it rewards are actually qualities you would want to have in a colleague or a subordinate.

People like Clay Shirky with their status-quo bias will passively ensure that the assholes keep succeeding, but they get their reward for that — they end up surrounded by assholes. Everyone else with the power to offer rewards just needs to work a little more consciously to ensure what they’re rewarding is something they’d still find appealing in another context.

Permadisclaimer: my taste in music is entirely my own and is in no way associated with the proprietor of this blog. However, I do want to thank him, my co-guestbloggers and y’all profusely for doing their (and your!) part to contribute to a unified scene. It’s been a pleasure. I’ll see you around.

Dara Lind

Dara Lind