“Rule number one: Don’t be an asshole,” I announced.

Two hundred people tittered and my teaching assistant hopped up to write Don’t Be An Asshole in big letters on the white board.

In the past few years, the conference I taught at had become a force for social justice issues. The inadvertent side effect was that leading a class there had become a bit like walking through the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride: one wrong word could erupt a deadly geyser of virulence, and once there was an eruption, it was tough to get the class’s focus back on topic. “Don’t be an asshole” was meant to give me something to point to if I misstepped, a tool to help me get the class’s attention back: “Oops! I broke the first rule. I’m so sorry,” or “hey, remember the first rule?” It was a way to get eyes back on me. What I didn’t realize was that it would quickly become a mantra for the weekend, with people leaving my class reminding each other “Don’t be an asshole!”

We all have assholic moments (even if you meditate, do yoga three times a week, and center and ground daily). The more stressed we are, the greater the chance we’re going to erupt. read more…