1 Corinthians and the No Asshole Rule

Two weeks ago it was my turn to teach my adult bible class at church. We are going through 1 Corinthians and I was up to teach the famous Chapter 13: "Love is patient, love is kind..."

And I thought to myself, "Richard, what are you possibly going to say in class that hasn't been said before about 1 Corinthians 13?"

Then it hit me.

I started the class by doing a book review and reading selections from Dr. Robert Sutton's new book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't.

Sutton is a Stanford business professor (he hosts a great blog). In 2004, Sutton proposed and wrote up the No Asshole Rule as a "Breakthrough Idea" in the annual edition on that topic for The Harvard Business Review. Basically, the No Asshole Rule states that a company would do well to become more intolerant of those mean, nasty, selfish, egomanical, rude, jerks we know as assholes in the workplace.

After publishing his idea Sutton received tons of feedback from people around the globe telling him stories of the toll assholes exact in the workplace. He also received confirmation that companies who had implemented a version of the No Asshole Rule did, in fact, experience not only a boost in their corporate culture but to their bottom line as well. All this inspired Sutton to write The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't.

I enjoyed the The No Asshole Rule because there is so much gospel in it. I was also impressed with how much of the No Asshole Rule involved issues of hierarchy, issues I've blogged about before (see here and here and here).

For example, how do you identify an asshole? Sutton proposes two tests:
Test One:
After talking to the alleged asshole, does the "target" feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him or herself?

Test Two:
Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful? (p. 9)
Test Two I find really important. As does Sutton. Later in the book he says this:
The difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know. (p. 25)
The problem is that humans are easily corrupted by hierarchy. Even small power differentials can begin transforming us into assholes.

Sutton cites research by Deborah Gruenfeld who has extensively studied the ruinous toll of hierarchy on human character. In one study Sutton discusses, Gruenfeld observed groups of three undergraduates asked to discuss a controversial topic. One of the three students was randomly appointed to evaluate the recommendations of the other two (placing them in a slightly higher power role). Later in the experiment the students were brought a plate of five cookies (intentionally an odd number!). Interestingly, the "high status" students were more likely to take a second cookie, chew with their mouths open, and get crumbs on their faces and the table! As Sutton reflects (p. 72):
This silly study scares me because it shows how having just a slight power edge causes regular people to grab the cookies for themselves and act like rude pigs. Just think about the effects in thousands of interactions every year...
Basically, as Sutton summarizes later: "Power breeds nastiness." (p. 72)

Thus, one application of the No Asshole Rule is to flatten hierarchies in companies and organizations. Sutton realizes that in the business world hierarchies are a necessary evil, they are efficient and effective. However, hierarchies should be downplayed to create a transparent, approachable, and civil workplaces. This tension Sutton calls the "power-performance paradox." Quoting Sutton:
[Companies] realize that their company has and should have a pecking order, but they do everything they can do to downplay and reduce status and power differences among members. (p. 78)
To start to implement the No Asshole Rule Sutton recommends (p. 88) connecting "big policies to small decencies." Sutton sums this up in a pithy way (p. 89): "the no asshole rule is meaningless unless you treat the person right in front of you, right now, in the right way."

Finally, how do we change if we think we may be assholes?

Late in the book Sutton suggests this (p. 118): "Admitting you're an asshole is the first step." That is: "to avoid acting like or becoming a known asshole, know thyself" (p. 119). Socrates would have been proud.

All in all, the The No Asshole Rule is a great book. And as I read it I pondered all the assholes I've had the pleasure to interact with over the years. And I also wondered about how I act like an asshole from time to time. At school, at church, and at home.

So, we reflected on all this in my Sunday School class. And after reflection on the No Asshole Rule, I read these famous words:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs...

Basically, don't be an asshole.

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12 thoughts on “1 Corinthians and the No Asshole Rule”

  1. This is the kind of Biblestudy that I wished had existed as I was coming up in the world.

    It would have done me a lot of good.

  2. Yes, this book looks good, however, if I were to introduce this book into a bible study, they would probably boot me out.

  3. Richard, Steve, Shane, JP:

    Another Sunday School way of biblically getting at
    "assholiness" might be to study I Samuel 5:12ff using the New American Bible translation about what happened to those Philistine assholes who stole the Ark of the Covenant. "Those [assholes] who escaped death were afflicted with hemorrhoids, and the outcry from the city went up to the heavens"! And according to I Samuel 6, their guilt offering consisted of "five golden hemorrhoids." Maybe churches, business, and government could institute a similar rule for punishing assholes: death or offering up or golden hemmorhoids.

    And then there was the one about the wife who said to her husband after his hemorroidectemy: "Now dear, you are the perfect asshole." Selah.

    George Cooper

  4. Great post. Working in the school environment I feel that all principals could benefit from this one. How not to become an asshole during TAKS testing time.

  5. George,
    Golden hemmorhoids. You're cracking me up:-)

    JP and Steve,
    I'm lucky to have an open minded group to teach for. We are the most progressive class in one of the most progressive churches in Abilene. I'm not sure how we all found each other but we did.

  6. Sounds great Richard. I love the people I commune with but with most of them, its their faces you would see in the dictionary under: traditional

  7. You know, this concept relates to the Body of Christ metaphor earlier in 1 Corinthians, too. After all, Paul does talk about covering up "less honorable members..."

  8. LOL... I loved it.... Thanks for the amazing post... I wish I was in your group...

    Dennis Laing

  9. I am about to start what may be the first-ever "No Asshole Orthodox Church choir". No kidding -- this is genius.

    Thanks for the scriptural slant. I have just begun to check out your blog, and I'm excited about it!

    Merry Jerk-free Christmas.

  10. that's ironic-- starting a no-asshole church-- like finding a perfect church, don't join it or you'll wreck it.

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