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Case study: J. The Jester

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Wow I have a feeling that this JB friend probably also got enough charms on the outside. Is it true? Outward charm and disregard of others are red flags of people with narcissistic and antisocial tendencies.

Yes it also makes me feel that he's insecure, and he might be targeting you. Personally I wouldn't trust a person who's not comfortable with himself and projects his insecurity outwardly and trying to gain approval by winning over others (nastily too).

I feel board games are a great way to reveal who a person is. Except those who are deeply obsessed with games (experts, professional players), lay people who play competitively have a discounted social value in my view because I feel it's not necessary. I've played with people who have good game skills, are sociable and I would still have a great time. That's what I feel the social meaning of games is - you can wrestle intellectually a bit, but without being nasty socially.

Also I don't know if it's cultural difference, but it seems a bit rude that your friends laughed at you falling. Was it more of a clumsy fun fall, or did you hurt? And of course, this JB's comment was pretty nasty on your falling, sounds like Schadenfreude to me.

John Freeman has reacted to this post.
John Freeman

Thanks Emily!

Yes, that's the thing with him. In my writing it can come off as he's narcissistic but he's not based on my experience. He's a fun-loving person with insecurities.

I found there is definitely a rivalry between us, but not to the point where it's frenemy.

He had brothers and many men I know have this competitive streak. I did not as I was not raised like that. In my family, competition was something negative. This was both a blessing and a curse since the real world is competitive. I think board games are a great opportunity for me to develop my competitiveness and will to win as they are necessary skills (as hiding intentions and deception are) to be effective in the World.

I did not hurt myself. There was definitely Schadenfreude there. So yes, he's quite competitive but hides it. Everybody has flaws.

That's what I feel the social meaning of games is - you can wrestle intellectually a bit, but without being nasty socially.

This is a great point and a great reminder. We play political games where ruthlessness is how you win. As I said I want to learn the winner mindset.

However, there is a dark side to it as in "Winning at all costs".

In between games, we debrief in a friendly way what happened in the game. We learn from one another.

I think it's part of his dark side: the will to dominate. As said somewhere else I have it as well as I think it's part of human nature.

A friend advised me to compliment him on what he does well as a way to soothe his insecurity. I think it's a good idea. I also think that in his group back in France he was one of the top dogs and here, he's not anymore as he's surrounded with people who are more accomplished than him professionally and materially.

So it's a good case study for me and I'll continue to update it as I learn more from him.

I also noticed that he reveals certain things to others but not to me. So I think he thinks I'm judging him. Maybe he's afraid of being judged as well.

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KavalierleaderoffunEmily

I'm sad to admit it. But J. is in competition with me for leadership. He's not narcisstic. However, where he has some status is among his peer group of friends from his shared house. So in this sense, I'm a threat to him from an ego stand point. That means:

1. Is he a cool guy who does not have to stress and is free to do what he wants and hangs out at the beach, etc.?

2. Or is he a 34 years old guy living with 5 other people while working as a helper on a construction site in a foreign country?

So basically I have not to do anything that triggers view 2, which is what I did in the past to help him.

6 months I gave him one of my contacts for a job. I called this person. I told him my friends' profile. I told my friend. Basically he was 80% sure to get the job, based on my recommendation. What did he do? Nothing. He told me he was interested but he did not even call the person.

So I think he has not yet faced where he is in Life and has a bitterness that he hides from everyone. Despite him being a good person.

This was the missing piece of the puzzle. So basically he has not done yet what I call: "looking in the mirror". That means acknowledge your own current reality to yourself.

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Emily

Hello guys and girls,

Ok, now I can finally categorise this problem.  It's a case of:

  • Intra-group male competition/rivalry
  • Moral superiority
  • Fight for leadership
  • Jester/Prankster
  • Social Climbing

I want to add he's a high-confidence guy.

Context

Yesterday, we went to do a Pétanque. He showed us a place that is quite nice that I did not know on the lakeshore. It was his birthday.

Birthday gift

It was his birthday so I bought him a gift and a card. I allowed other people who did not chip in for the gift to write on the card (noble gesture) as the gift and the cards did not cost too much ($30 total). I bought him a board game. However I have been Machiavellian about it. I chose a game which is good but not too good as I did not want that board games would now happen at this place. So I did not want to empower him too much. The next part would show me I was right.

We offer him the gift and the card and he's happy. He thanks everyone while some of these people did not buy the card nor the gift and will not have to. But that is the gift I make to these people: "I'll cover you guys and he does not have to know that you did not know it was his birthday/did not buy him a gift."

First covert attack: he said "you did not write "Happy birthday" and signed for the friend who's absent?" and laughed. Because for another friend's birthday recently I signed for a friend on the card who contributed to the gift but was not present (Of course I told my friend that I did that). That is basic curtesy and I would like people to do that for me if I chipped in for a gift but cannot be present at the birthday.

Shame attack

The ducks

I was throwing bread to ducks and he attacked me. He told me that he did not like when people were feeding ducks. It was quite aggressive. I continued to throw bread as he was making too much a big fuss out of it. At some point I told him:

Me: what is this aggressivity?

I told him I was respecting his opinion. In the end it became more like a joke. However, it was a power showdown and I held my ground. I was not ready to change my behaviour just because he was shaming me about it. Basically the frame was that I was stupid/bad person for throwing bread to ducks. Of course, it's not the best thing. What I did not like was the tone and the attack out of nowhere. I got a bit hurt that my friend would attack me like this publicly. I could hold my ground but I got sad that this person would do that to me.

He did something very nasty he said:

Him: you say people are dumb about how they feed their kids (obesity) but you feed ducks? (angry tone)

Me: you're comparing things that do not have anything to do with one another: obese children and feeding ducks.

This one was very nasty. He thinks that all poor people are great, corporations are evil, yadi, yada.

He attacks me for talking straight about parents who make their child obese. It's my job to give them advice. He attacked me on my job and passion to make a point. That shows what he thinks about me. And this was in a past conversation when I talked about my job.

I thought about talking to him 1-on-1 after this to tell him that it's the tone that I did not like. I finally let it go not too make too much a big mess out of it.

He prouds himself on eating meat only 1-2x a week. However he went to throw aluminium cans in the trashcan. So I told him: "so you don't recycle?" to show him he's criticising others but he's not doing so much better. He also talked about an "asiat" to talk about an asian woman, which is derogatory term.

He says things: "you cannot generalize" when you actually want to make a point about averages and statistics.

Sometimes he says facts out of nowhere that are not true, but he thinks he knows it's correct. I usually correct him. So we often end up in a "who's right" dynamics.

Starts to make fun of me

He also started to make fun of me for some shots at Pétanque. He's very good at Pétanque as this is the national sport where he grew up. But I started to notice he tries to push me down in the hierarchy by making fun of me.

Women

There were women who came by where we were playing so I started to tease them and played a funny/flirty power move on them: "Walk this way, you are safe" while pointing to the direction they were already walking. He loved it and fist-bumped me. This shows he's very aware of power dynamics.

Train platform

On the train platform, I could get to see better how he thinks. We arrived on the train platform and there was this other friend waiting for us. He said: "Let's pretend this is not the right platform and when he comes we go to the other one". I followed his lead while I thought this was not so funny. However, he was right, our friend came and when he arrived we went the other side and he followed. I thought this was quite a lame joke. However, this shows again that he's very aware of power dynamics.

Bus

We were in the train and I said I'm going to get off at stop B and take this bus. He said "no, this is going to take longer, get off at this stop A and take this other bus". Yes, it was right. However, the tone was implying that I was stupid and he knew better. So I pushed back because I did not want to follow his lead. So I get off at the stop I said I would. Next time, of course I'll take the other itinerary. However, he was not being a friend there helping me to get home earlier. He was bossing me around to show he knew better.

Going rock climbing

He told me after this episode: "If you're going to rock climb on Thursday, tell me". Once again in this context he was taking the leadership and tasking me. So I said: "Yeah I'm going to go on Thursday". The frame is now: "I go rock climbing with or without you".

Playing Pétanque

He likes to teach so I'm learning a lot. However, once I did a good shot and I told him: "yeah it's thanks to your advice". He was playing on the other team and said: "So I'm not going to give more" and smiled. So that's typical of him: part-joking, part-helping, part-nasty.

Competitive

He's really competitive. Now it's clear to me. After we were in the train he boasted: "I haven't lost in a while." and laughed. To which I mistakenly answered: "Yeah you're too good" (agree and amplify). To which I corrected: "It's good now? You're happy?" (frame is: you wanted us to pat your back, now is it good enough?

He thinks Pétanque is very serious and his ego is very much involved into it. He really wants to win.

Nasty social climber A.

He still sees nasty social climber A. which is fine by me. However, now it's the open secret: they see him "behind my back". I cannot even imagine what A. says about me. But me I never talk about him. I'm also starting to think that when he's doing stuff and I'm not invited sometimes it's because nasty social climber A. is invited.

I'll counter this by making friends with the house-mates and inviting them as I grow my social circle bigger.

Travel stories

He tells travel stories. They're nice. But it's also a way to push him up in the hierarchy.

Advantages:

  • Gives me access to his shared house social circle
  • Is Fun
  • I get to learn rock climbing
  • I get to learn Pétanque
  • I like to play board games with him
  • Shows me places since he has time to explore and is also more in "tourist mode"

Challenges

  • Well, he's definitely attacking me, so now I can label him as a frenemy
  • He's now the kind of person who I have to be ready to defend against when I see him
  • I will push him slowly towards the periphery but I cannot do it as abruptly as I did with nasty social climber A.
  • Now we go rock climbing once a week together, so it's going to be challenging to do so
  • Now I don't tell him about my inner/private life anymore. I don't trust him anymore about these kinds of things as he proved he's not worthy of it. I offer him gifts for his birthday, I connect him with a job, I invited him I don't know how many times and he launch a shame attack on me publicly after I offer him a gift? That is not going to fly.
  • He's part of my inner social circle
  • I thought about having a straight talk with him, however I think he enters the category of "sneaky fucks" so he does not deserve a straight talk. I'll be Machiavellian with him.

So this is where I am currently. As you guys can see it's a challenging situation for me. If you have any advice or opinion, I'm happy to hear them!

I'm sad to see that this person has a dark side and is going against me. To me, what he's doing is nasty. Instead of being grateful he hurts me.

I'm happy that I grew emotionally as I can see this does not affect me so much as it used to. However, I cannot let this go on. I don't trust him with private information anymore, even about my job. 

@lucio: I could not find again the lesson on shame attacks, I found the article with Julien Blanc. I remember there was a lesson right? Also, there was advice about how to defend against jesters, I could not find it anymore. Could you help me find it?

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Kavalier

Also, he told me once in a 1-on-1 that I was "talkative" and liked talkative people. This is the judge role at play. Moreover, he actually talks more than I do.

Loyalty

We're playing a game since 1.5 year and it's a game which is comprised of several games. It's a story and everytime we play, we move forward in the story. There are 5 players. One of our friend who participate in the game is going to go abroad for 3 months or even longer.

For me it was clear that we started the game with him so we finish the game with him.

He was talking about someone who could replace him. And who of course? Someone from his house-sharing. It's my game and he did not even ask what I had in mind nor if there would be someone to replace him who did I want.

So that also speaks about his character.

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Kavalier

If you guys want to give me a hand on this case study, I would not mind. I thought hard about it and experimented. Your help and outside perspective would be much appreciated!

I'm at the limit of my social skills and power intelligence. I view it as a learning experiment. However I feel I'm out-matched in terms of social skills and power intelligence in this case.

Thanks to Emily and Kavalier for your input so far, it was helpful!

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Kavalier

@kavalier: would you have confronted him calmly 1-on-1 when he shame attacked me with the ducks?

You think I was right to let it go?

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Kavalier

Hey, John, I think it was great. In fact, especially because he was so aggressive about it and made such a big deal out of it, I would do the same thing you did. The style I'm trying to cultivate is a little different, it goes like this:

JB: long rant about why feeding ducks is racist and mysoginist, only Marine Le Pen supporters would do that, and why we should teach ducks how to fish by themselves instead

Me: Hey man, come and sit here for a second (said with a brief "come here motion", eyes fixed on the ducks and feeding them like you did, just to get him out of rant mode. I'd use either with a neutral or warm, but very calm, tone: You may have a good point. Perhaps we can sit together for a beer sometime just you and me and you can further explain your point of view, and I'll elaborate on mine. This may be an interesting discussion, as long as we are both open to different opinions and respect each other. Then look at him straight in the eyes and continue, but now get serious: I respect your opinion, Fredo JB, but I don't appreciate your tone. And very slowly: Don't ever talk to me like that again. Am I clear?

Then if he apologizes, you rebuild good will, smile, reempower him and you two go back to having fun. If he doesn't and thread-expands on it, then for me it's a big deal. I personally would be ready to walk away at that very moment.

In this case I go for a longish answer is because it gives enough time for everyone else to see JB change tack and start to follow your lead. Also, perhaps asking why might empower him to double-down on the rant, because it'll lead him to search for justifications and regain momentum. Here I'm using PU's advice of addressing the tone instead of the content, and trying to get him ut of momentum.

I've been in a similar situations countless times before and I did absolutely nothing lol. Now I have time to sit back and analyse this dialogue and choose the words, but I don't know what the real me would default to in your situation.

Curious to know your opinion on this one too.

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John Freeman

Hello Kavalier,

I'm taking the liberty to answer here to help readers understand the story. Once again thank you very much for your answer!

I get the impression that, when interacting with JB, you are usually in a situation where there a more of his friends. In those scenarrios, JB seems to be the de-facto leader. JB, though, seems to be nasty when it comes to “leadership”. In this case, perhaps it’s better not to play the same games back on him (man, this, by the way, is so hard; I know this in my head, but I still fall for it each and every time), so as not to fuel this dynamic. Perhaps an emphasis on one-accrosses instead of one-up might work better here.

True. I think I understood that he actually likes to lead even though he pretended it was not the case. So with his roommates he has a group of people he can do activities with without asking to other people. In these situations, yes he's the leader. True not to be a turkey back. One-acrosses are a great suggestion. I think in the duck episode I handled it well. Because the group started to turn into a joke. JB followed this frame that it was a joke. However, he followed my frame as we were making fun of how serious it is to feed ducks. So people in the group relativized his frame and he went along when he realized the group was not taking it as seriously as him to feed ducks. He was in the minority so he submitted to the majority.

If JB acts like this to you only, it’s still possible that JB will change tack if it becomes clear that you are not struggling for leadership, so not fueling this dynamic could make him stop. And if JB acts like this to everybody, it’s probable that everyone resents it somewhat. So not playing the same games back on him and presenting yourself as an alternative positive leader/judge/provider, people would slowly gravitate towards you.

Yes, actually he was making fun of another member of the group and now he targets me. That is social climbing. Before he was not making fun of me, so there is definitely a power dynamics element here. The trick is that he's not that nasty. So for most people his humour is good fun. That's why he's a good jester: it flies under the radar of most people as humour. For instance, now he takes situations where we were 1-on-1 and I made a mistake or whatever. And he brings it out publicly. This made me realized that I did that to one of our friend. So as a mirror effect, I won't do it anymore. The rule is: don't talk bad about absent friends, even if it's funny. This group has the tendency to make fun of its member, that's a bit of their humor.

JB knows how to read power dynamics – but is not perfect. He makes big mistakes that are god-sent to you, such as saying/doing things that antagonize everyone else. And he does this all the time (for example, going to rock-climbing courses that everyone wanted to go). In the gift situation, for example, it was the perfect situation for you to emphasize “we” (the group) vs “JB”:

That is one of the keys with these individuals. They try to single out someone to social climb. Lucio gave me similar advice for another situation. I think it's great.

JB: you did not write "Happy birthday" and signed for the friend who's absent?You: (straight to JB in front of everybody): don’t say this, man, we were all thinking about you when we chose this gift for you...Or,
You (to others that overheard it, but you didn't have the chance to reply to JB directly : o look at him, we give him an awesome gift and look at how he treats us…”

That is exactly what I thought. I mean we offer him a gift and he one-ups me. I found this to be very low. I took time to buy a gift, I made sure everybody wrote on the card. This is the moment when I realized I was right not to offer him a gift that would empower him socially too much. I bought an "ok" gift, not a great one neither a crappy one.

I think this is so game-changing, that it could be a rule of thumb to always try to take advantage of situations where one person that we think is antagonizing us says/does something that may be demeaning to the group. Now it’s not J.B vs you anymore, it’s J.B vs the whole group (and you as the group’s stantard-bearer, because you spoke alone when nobody else did :).

Yes, this is a great strategy.

Even if you are not yet known or people still don’t mind you, J.B puts himself in situations where nobody will stand up for him. In situations like these, even if you go overboard (as long as it’s minimally justified), people will still be at your side if everyone else is offended. One should be very careful as not to single himself out of the group, because people LOVE displays of aggression. We hate in-group aggression. But we love aggression against others (the “not-wes”). Not to say this should be a go-to strategy; but it’s good to know this because it’s a good reminder for ourselves never to do what JB is doing because this is such a stupidity, that countless rulers in the past – e.g Roman History - were and still are being murdered because of things like this.

The thing is that he rarely attacks the group. He attacks me by ridiculing me and then find other people to laugh at me.

Perhaps you could bring more people that are closer to you when you interact with JB. Lucio suggested this strategy to Emily, and I had an a-ha moment reading that... This is ingenious. That’s exactly how Texas became the 28th U.S State.

Yes, I already started to dilute as Lucio calls it. It's brilliant.

I really don’t think that groups of friends should be approached as a struggle for leadership. But I think it’s important to present ourselves as “leadership material” – i.e, capable of acting like leaders when the situation calls for it – and keep leadership strictly contextual, as you put it. It's more of a "one of the leaders" mindset than the leader.

Well, I agree with you. However, I created this group so I felt that it was "my" group. Also, because of all the one-ups, I feel like I have to stay on top. This is food for thoughts. I actually like to share leadership. The thing is, as soon as people have it, they hoard it and impose their frame (one-upping is ok, competition is ok).

If leadership is kept contextual, and we spend time both leading and being led, then everyone in that core group of friends will be happy together. The “leaders” of the group would be more or less the core group of friends that act as the host, as the guides to the activities where everyone eles is new, as the ones that bring new people who do not know each others and make…

I definitely agree and this is my preferred way of doing it. However, when we do activities where JB is good (Pétanque, rock climbing), then he acts superior and it's not a good feeling. He tells us what to do and this is disempowering. If I'm climbing as soon as I have difficulties, he comes in to tell me what to do. It's the way he does it. It's the tone. It's not encouraging, it's more like: "do this (or else it's not right)". I guess it's from his upbringing and his social environment. In my country, we are more gentle.

It’s also important to keep leadership open: people who are new to the group will naturally become part of the leadership if they frequent the group. And they may be leaders of other groups themselves (these are the best people to have in one's group, because they bring more people). High quality people are leaders themselves, and may resent it if they don't have access to power (the bourgeoisie in the French Revolution, you know...)

Very true, this is an important component and principle of power in a social group. I think that exactly what happened with JB: I was creating the Whatsapp groups and I was staying at the centre of communication. I learned this because when I let it loose, then people like nasty social climber A. started to act nasty and this was spoiling the group.

So in a sense, I feel the responsibility to police the group to have a good vibe and minimize the one-ups. Regarding the choices of events/places I'm open when I get to learn a new place, do another activity.

The frame that JB is pushing on me is that I'm domineering, which I'm not. I keep a certain control to keep a positive environment.

However, I have my biases and my flaws, so all that you wrote is food for thoughts and introspection. There might be a dark side of me that I'm not yet acknowledging. I can definitely be a better leader.

This was fruitful for me. As I said in another post: I'm not able to have a look at myself from outside of myself. Thanks for your empathetic perspective! 🙂

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Kavalierleaderoffun

Hey John!

Quote from John Freeman on July 19, 2022, 1:38 pm

I think in the duck episode I handled it well. Because the group started to turn into a joke. JB followed this frame that it was a joke. However, he followed my frame as we were making fun of how serious it is to feed ducks. So people in the group relativized his frame and he went along when he realized the group was not taking it as seriously as him to feed ducks. He was in the minority so he submitted to the majority.

Looking from this angle, I think your answer to the situation was definetely better. It was a great strategy to turn it into a joke. The way I proposed, if it was said like that to a thin-skinned power player, things could have escalated. It's also great that the group took your side and started to make fun out of it, it shows that you've really got leadership even among his peers!

I was also taking a look at PU's lesson on handling difficult situations, and @lucio does something very interesting there in a conversation about rats. I think it might have worked wonderfully there too. Like, you pretend you are the duck speaking and make a joke out of it like "Yeaaah, don't - quaaaaaack - throw us this crap, buddy, we want meat!!"

Emily's @rwy answer to MMC in this thread was also great. That "Whoa whoa whoa, please let's not get into this too quickly..." delivered with a tone of amusement could have worked wonderfully here.

Yes, actually he was making fun of another member of the group and now he targets me. That is social climbing. Before he was not making fun of me, so there is definitely a power dynamics element here. The trick is that he's not that nasty. So for most people his humour is good fun. That's why he's a good jester: it flies under the radar of most people as humour. For instance, now he takes situations where we were 1-on-1 and I made a mistake or whatever. And he brings it out publicly. This made me realized that I did that to one of our friend. So as a mirror effect, I won't do it anymore. The rule is: don't talk bad about absent friends, even if it's funny. This group has the tendency to make fun of its member, that's a bit of their humor.

Yes, social climbing at its best. What if we thread-expand on the frame that he is a jester? For example, every time he makes a joke and you don't have an answer to it, you might laugh along and say something like "Man, this guy is a genious comedian" or "This guy definetely should do some stand-up". In a video in PU's lesson about jesters, a host tried to do that. Sure, he handles the situation very poorly, as Lucio explains in detail. But If you do this laughing and finding it genuinely amusing, this is quite a judge power move. You might even put an arm around him, or if  you are stronger and are really laughing out loud, you can even pull him towards you in a way that shows that you are being warm, but displaying some physical dominance.

Slowly the group might start to buy into the frame that he's the jester of the group and even start doing the same. If he's really power aware, he might probably drop it, because continuing to act like this would indeed put him the position of the group's jester.

Very true, this is an important component and principle of power in a social group. I think that exactly what happened with JB: I was creating the Whatsapp groups and I was staying at the centre of communication. I learned this because when I let it loose, then people like nasty social climber A. started to act nasty and this was spoiling the group.

So in a sense, I feel the responsibility to police the group to have a good vibe and minimize the one-ups. Regarding the choices of events/places I'm open when I get to learn a new place, do another activity.

The frame that JB is pushing on me is that I'm domineering, which I'm not. I keep a certain control to keep a positive environment.

This might certainly be a factor. In whatsapp groups me and my friends participate we often share the administration with all members, so as to avoid this.

This was fruitful for me. As I said in another post: I'm not able to have a look at myself from outside of myself. Thanks for your empathetic perspective! 🙂

You are welcome, John! I myself have trouble dealing with situations like this, so in this case we are helping each other. Thanks for the opportunity to study this together 🙂

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