Editor’s Column: The duck test

Years ago I sat in a leadership meeting where the instructor admonished the group with the following words of advice: “if everyone you encounter says you’re a jackass, instead of blaming them and whining about how mean they are, it’s probably a good time to take a look in the mirror.” (It was a church conference, so I feel OK leaving “jackass” in there.)

That lesson has come back to me with great frequency on a personal and professional level in the last few months.

It goes hand in hand with the old saying, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

The “duck test” is a form of abductive reasoning that provides a way to identify something or someone based on consistent patterns of behavior.

When we have a lousy day, we might behave badly by lashing out at a store clerk, or being mean to the dog, or yelling at our kids or co-workers. That’s a one-off. We all have bad days and we all say things we don’t mean and do things we shouldn’t do from time to time. That doesn’t make us ducks (or jackasses), it makes us human.

When we’re on the receiving end of that kind of behavior it’s helpful to remember that the person might just be having a terrible day, or they just got bad news, or maybe they aren’t feeling well, or they got a letter from the IRS (guaranteed to cause a bad mood).

But when someone consistently mistreats, attacks, bullies, verbally abuses others, and subsequently excuses their bad behavior as “part of their personality” or just “telling it like it is,” the probability you’ve encountered a duck is pretty high.

We all know them — they’re the high conflict client, the “Karens” who always demand to speak to the manager because they aren’t getting their way (apologies to any Karens out there… you’re this generation’s Marsha Brady). They’re the friend or relative who says whatever they think with no consideration of the impact their words have on the hearers, the constant complainers, the folks with the persecution complex — the fault always lies with someone else, never with them.

If we’re smart, we’ll watch for the ducks and avoid them, and we won’t put them in positions of power or authority in our lives. And at the same time, we’ll practice regular self-checks in the mirror to make sure we haven’t grown a bill and feathers. Being surrounded by ducks — or jackasses — puts us at risk of ducklike behavior, and no one wants that.

Let the ducks be ducks, but don’t engage or give them your energy. They are, after all, just ducks. Let them quack.

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To the subscriber who sent in the letter to the editor this week but didn’t want your name attached (and acknowledged it likely wouldn’t be published), thank you for sharing your thoughts. We thoroughly enjoyed your perspective. And yes, we’re tired, too.

By NIKI TURNER – editor@ht1885.com