Walk A Mile In A Jerk’s Shoes…

Sunday, 9:17 pm
Reno, NV
Methinks she doth protest too much…


Without the insights of good pop psychology, I cannot fathom how my neighbor isn’t wracked with shame every second of his miserable life.

Because he truly is a Grade A asshole.

It’s not just me. Six other neighbors, on all sides, hate this guy’s guts with varying levels of passion (cuz he harshes everyone’s mellow and disrupts the groove of the cul-de-sac). The Homeowner’s Association regularly slams him with fines (cuz he thinks he’s above the rules). And I’m never surprised to see cop cars parked in his driveway.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The dude’s obviously a low-life scum, living among people who just want peace and quiet.

If I was him, I’d immediately sign up for industrial-strength therapy, and maybe start a brisk program of frequent self-flagellation as punishment.

But I’m not him.

I’m someone else, looking at him with utter bafflement, because I cannot understand how he can live with himself, being such an asshole.

Yet, using the simplest basics of psychology… I “get” it.

And “getting” it makes me both a better story-teller, and a better marketer.

It’s really very straightforward: In Mr. A-hole’s mind, he’s a great guy. Misunderstood, prone to accidents that could happen to anyone, a smidgen too quick to get angry about stuff that anyone would get pissed off about.

He has a whole menu of excellent reasons that — in his mind — explain everything he does in a way that makes him either totally forgiven and excused… or the victim of unpreventable circumstances.

He has rationalized his behavior so that he’s the good guy at the center of his world.

And no amount of incoming data that challenges that rationalization will change anything.

The dude is bottled up tight. Certain of his own righteousness.

Serial killers think like this. Politicians, too. Also thieves, social outcasts, actors, perverts and scamsters.

And you, too. And me. And everyone you market to.

It’s part of being human.

Now, you and I may also have some redeeming traits, like a code of behavior that prevents us from hurting other people or avoiding doing the right thing (or parking half on a neighbor’s lawn).

We are, in fact, a roiling pot of conflicting and battling emotions, urges, habits, learned behaviors and unconscious drives.

Every day, if we’re lucky, the mixture remains mostly balanced and doesn’t explode or morph into something toxic.

But it’s all in there. And it’s all fighting for supremacy.

The book ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People”, by Dale Carnegie, is called the salesman’s bible because of a simple tactic that works like crazy.

That tactic: Learn to walk a mile in another man’s shoes before judging him.

Or sizing him up.

This tactic does NOT come with our default settings as humans. You gotta learn it.

Once you’ve been around very small children, you realize how deeply ingrained our selfish desires are. We excuse them in kids, but strive to civilize the little terrors by corraling those desires into submission.

Takes a while.

People who grow up without that kind of mentoring can be hard to deal with. Some special cases — those blessed with an endless supply of sociopathic charm — can still make it work, and live lives of selfish abandon. Good for them.

But most of us realize that we gotta share the sandbox with others, and that means sublimating our greedy ape-urges most of the time.

Still, if you’re gonna be a great salesman, you gotta become a great student of human nature… and notice, catalog, understand, and USE insights like this.

So when you tell a story, it’s easy to figure out what the listener needs to hear to stay interested. When you sell something, it’s easy to know how to incite desire, because you know what people want (which is almost always NOT what you want them to want).

And when you’re approaching prospects cold — cuz they don’t know who you are — you are able to quickly discern who THEY are, and adjust your tactics accordingly.

But you cannot attain this state of understanding human behavior… without experiencing all the different parts of human behavior out there.

Okay, you don’t want to experience everything. People do some truly disgusting and repulsive stuff that is beyond the boudaries of acceptable experience for the rest of us.

But within reason, you at least need to learn how to walk in another person’s shoes for a mile. (That’s supposed to be an old American-Indian saying, a take-off on the Judeo-Christian “golden rule” of treating others as you would be treated yourself.)

It helps to understand basic psychology. It’s probably out of print, but the old best seller “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” (which is about transactional psychology, but never mind that part) lays out a pretty good start for rookies. Once you see a few examples of how your thinking on a matter may not jive with the other guy’s thinking… you’ll have the seeds of understanding how to delineate what those differences are, and how they affect your relationship.

It’s really not that tough, once you get wet.

Basically, the bottom line of understanding human behavior is all about accepting the reality of the situation.

Yes, he’s an asshole, according to your rules. But in his rule book, you’re probably the asshole. If you insist on not allowing his viewpoint to exist, there will be blood.

In marketing, if you don’t learn to understand how other people see you and your efforts to sell, there will be no sale.

It’s tough to walk in another dude’s shoes even if you LIKE him. Think of your best friend. His taste in clothes is abysmal, he insists on wearing his hair in a stupid style, he watches bad television shows, and eats horrible crap.

Yet, somehow you overlook these things, and get along.

The challenge, as a marketer, is to suck up your distaste for people who don’t share your worldview… and be a chameleon. That’s the lizard that blends in with any background (except plaid — we used to try to make the little lizards explode by placing psychedelic prints on the bottom of their cage). (Doesn’t work, in case you’re wondering.)

You don’t have to compromise your cherished beliefs, or alter your own worldview. (Unless you discover you should.)

Just understand that there are more complex personality tweaks in the people around you than there are stars in the sky.

And your job, as a marketer, is to understand that the person you’re selling stuff to may need all sorts of weird, twisted info or soothing advice or whatever to make a buying decision.

It’s not hard, once you learn how to walk a mile in other people’s shoes… and then DO it, on a regular basis.

And you gotta do it even with the assholes around you.

I still loathe my neighbor, but I can’t really hate him. He’s infuriating, but the real reason he pisses everyone off… is that he’s just not good at social interaction. HE cannot walk three feet in someone else’s shoes, has no clue what that would accomplish anyway, and lives in such a tight little box that he’s really just a walking prison of discomfort and exitential anguish.

I still wish he’d move, though.


Here’s a little task for you: Identify a trait in someone around you… that irks you no end. (Maybe humming off-key, or always being late, or telling boring stories.)

And spend a few minutes seeing that behavior from the inside.

Become, for a moment, that guy. Walk a mile in his shoes, and rationalize how you feel.

You don’t need to adopt the trait, or learn to “like” it.

Just understand it. Get hip to the way the other guy has come to terms with himself.

This is powerful knowledge.

This is how top marketers move through the world, with deep personal insight to how other humans get through their day.

I’d love to hear, in the comments section, what you discover when you do this task.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

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  • John says:

    Hi John – great post – what you’re proposing is not just a good excercise for marketing, it’s actually great for personal development – in fact, there’s few things you can do that are more powerful for evolving us above the raging uncontrollable beast that lives inside every one of us!

    Yes, pick someone who winds you up, and learn to feel compassion for him (or her). The qualities that rile you in him, are also qualities that rile you in yourself – that is, they rile you when (not if) you do the same things … such is the power of the psychological defense mechanism, that it makes us completely blind to things that we have decided that “are just not ME” … and it’s not until you can feel compassion for him that you can even begin to see more clearly the things you actually do yourself.

    This is why procedures such as the “buddy system” that alcoholics anonymous use, work so very well. By helping someone else address their own issues, we learn to address our own … and yes, our issues are so often VERY CLOSE TO those things that wind us up in other people that we witness around us.

    Thank you John

    and to everyone else, try it, see what happens.

    You may find it changes your life, even more than it changes your copywriting skill!

    John (another one that is)

  • Otto says:

    I guess that’s the advantage of having a 3-year old. Trying to understand her point of view really helps communication and avoids tears and frustration (on both sides).

    Add to that the fact that she tells it like it is and you’re not only learning about someone else, but also about your own habits and view on life.

    As for the challenge..up to 7 crosses.


    PS: Our neighbour decided to cut the 12 ft high hedge, without consulting any of the 3 neighbours this affected. That literally changes your view on things…

  • Jeff Walker says:

    I dragged the December issue of the Rebel Rant from Colorado to Las Vegas and then back to Colorado. It was unopened the entire time.

    Then to Hawaii and back to Colorado. Still unopened.

    And I never knew about the time bomb ticking inside that envelope. I never knew it was going to be the last ever issue of the Rebel Rant.

    You see, whenever I got an issue of the Rant I would put it aside and wait for the perfect time to read it. A time when I could kick back and relax into it. When I could savor it.

    Often that would be when I was sitting on a beach, or sitting at a cafe. And many times it was when I was on a plane and I could withdraw into those pages.

    That would be my time each month where I could unplug and revel in the insights of a truly lucid human being.

    So, finally, on the last leg of the trip back from Hawaii… on the connection from Denver to Durango, I opened up that December Rebel Rant…

    And I pretty much knew the game was up right away. In the first few paragraphs you hinted at some news… and I instantly knew with absolute certainty what that news would be.

    In fact, I was so sure that I didn’t bother skipping ahead. No… instead I gave myself a stay of execution. No reason to rush ahead to bad news.

    So I read the newsletter straight through… and soon enough, there was the bad news just staring me in the face.

    No more Rebel Rant.

    Sure, you tried to soften the blow. There was the blog. You would update it frequently. You weren’t going away.

    But it just wasn’t going to be the same. I wouldn’t get that envelope in the mail every month… the envelope that I could carry unopened for five or six thousand miles. I wouldn’t be able to carry the Rant on my flights or to the beach.

    John, how many times have I sent you email telling you how much I enjoyed the Rant? Or, for that matter, told you the same thing in person? I’m gonna miss it.

    But here I am at your blog, dutifully following instructions. I even figured out how to use an RSS reader, so I’m always notified whenever you post to your damn blog.

    And I’m seriously considering having my assistant print out your blog posts every month and mail them to me. That way I get the envelope every month. 🙂

    It’s not quite the same, but it will have to do.

    (Oh… whoa is me, such a tireless hero. Reluctant, too. 😉

    In any case, thanks for all the great Rants over the years. And I look forward to more of the same great thought-provoking words on this blog.

    – Jeff

  • john-carlton says:

    Hey Jeff — I was wondering when I was gonna hear from you about the mailed Rant.

    I love the idea of having your assistant mailing the blog to you. Let me know how big that package is each month — by going to this online model, I’m actually delivering much more than the old mailed version.

    Also, when we finish the design changes on the blog, it’ll look more like the old rag.

    And, as you can see, I have not compromised my attitude or subject matter one iota by going totally online.

    Always good to hear from you. See ya in Florida in two weeks…


  • David says:

    Hi John!

    I would also like to posit the idea anyone who’s tried to have a reasoned debate over politics, is subject to the same battle. You can sit and moan over the fact they don’t get it and you do or you can try and understand the who, what and why at how they arrived at their viewpoint in order to make a better argument. Sometimes you end up changing some of your own ideas at the same time. What a revelation that can be!

    It’s a tough but worthy effort. The hardest thing in anyone’s life is admitting to a mistake in believing something fervently only to find out it was wrong. Like admitting your wife was right after all…


    I never understood being late. Until I had to raise 3 kids for awhile and work 2 jobs to pay bills. Now my perspective is much more wide open. Not just about being late but facing the fact we don’t really know what’s happening in someone else’s life. A few lucky times you can talk to them and earn enough trust with them to find a lot of issues in the background you had no clue about.

    That’s when you understand Reason Why copy. Your Reason Why may have little to do with someone else’s. What persuaded you often has little to do with what persuades them. Being willing to see their hook – and appreciate it as being special to them – gives you all sorts of opportunities.

    Drive around sometime and look at different neighborhoods. I see new cars in front of rat holes, old cars in front of fancy apartments and all sorts of mixes in between. My priorities are not yours. Your priorities are not mine. Once you get beyond I’m right and you’re wrong, you can learn all sorts of insights to what makes us truly human.

    Great “rant” as usual.

  • Patrick says:

    Hi John,

    I heard it put another way.

    Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that,
    who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes!!!

    It’s a bit different in your case.

    I’ve always had a rule that I try to stick to as much as possible: “Do not piss the neighbors off… because shotgun pallets do not spread out at that range”

    Buy him “How to win friends and influence people”

    When I was younger (things seemed like a big deal), I was invested in holding grudges, positional aggression and revenge.
    I’ve evolved from that, it took up to much emotional energy.

    But some people never learn!

    It can be hard to walk a mile in some else’s shoes sometimes, because if you have evolved enough to be good at something, you may have forgotten the exact steps and processes you went through when you first started.

    Great blog, Thanks John

  • DonGraff says:

    …Can anyone say: ‘Osama Bin Laden.?’…
    The #1 Freedom Fighter against the Russians,
    in Afghanistan…
    > Supplied by the USA with weapons & technology.
    > Supported openly by the Defense Dept. to fight the Russians.
    > Ignored & abandoned when the Russians withdrew.
    > Told he was no longer welcome..on military bases.

    I do not condone his actions since then.
    But ‘walking-in-his-shoes’ you can see his thinking.

    Oliver North ‘knew’ what Osama was capable of…
    He testified to Congress: ‘Bin Laden’ will attack the US.’
    …back in 1982.

    If ever realizing, how ‘committed’ a customer is, to their thinking…

    Osama Bin-Laden would be a classic case study.
    Our ‘salespeople’ ignored a valuable customer.

    …and turned him into our worst nightmare.

  • […] Carlton wrote a post about the psychology behind people who aggravate you recently and it's worth a read. You might just get a few insights into why people don't […]

  • Holy cow.

    The old dinosaur finally gives up on direct mail?

    Can this be.

    I’m in the middle of teaching a seminar on copy and used
    you John as the example of the only A list copywriter
    who really gets the Internet.

    Way to go.

    PS. I’ll miss curling up on the coach with my copy of the Rant wondering where John is going to go this month


  • john-carlton says:

    Harlan, I’m telling ya… get Sandra to do what Jeff’s gonna get his assitant to do: Print these blog posts out and mail them to you.

    I really “get” the pure pleasure of curling up with something physical to read. The digital book readers are coming close (Dean Jackson swears by his)… but there’s something almost sinfully good about reading stuff on real paper.

    Recycled, of course. Gotta give the trees a break…

    When we get the blog re-design done, we’ll aim to make it easy to print off…


  • Pete Moring says:

    Hi John,

    Loved the rant…..

    Great bit of reader participation/empathy/sales-spiel.

    My eldest son, now 35 has all the same traits your ‘A-hole’ neighbour has.

    Nothing’s his fault. Everyone misunderstands him.
    But worst of all, everyone forgives him. (Including the courts).

    He doesn’t understand that you can’t just go round making everyone’s life a misery. That if someone looks at you, you don’t punch their lights out.
    He thinks this is normal behaviour, (not instilled by his parents I must add) and is genuinely baffled that no-one seems to want to talk to him, or associate with him. (Except those who are to scared not to).

    Perhaps I’ll get him to visit your blog and receive some FREE, instant therapy. Only trouble is, he’d think he was the ‘good guy’.

    Before anyone shouts “I blame the parents”. He has 7 other sibblings, all ‘sound as a pound’.

    Good blog. Hope this ‘RANT’ contributes something.


  • Copywriting and Human Behavior | Moms' Prosperity Network | Kelly Smith says:

    […] was just reading John Carlton’s  post this morning (I suggest reading anything of his BTW, he is one of the best copywriters out […]

  • Ken Ca|houn says:

    John –

    Hey I like Jeff Walker’s idea re printing/reading the Rant… agree it was always something special to get in the mail each month, my favorite thing to read, to look forward to getting. Well heck at least we can still print out the posts here to curl up and read, which is a fine alternative.

    Your point about walking a mile in the other guy’s shoes is the perfect tactic to getting the ole Sales Detective warmed up, telling him which neighborhood to start sleuthing in, so to speak – and who to talk to.

    And it’s a great way to build empathy; to picture your prospect so we can craft our pitches to the “one person” vs the masses… (eg my trader is Bill, a 48-year old middle aged guy in a management job he doesn’t like in some corporate Dilbert cubicle, vicariously getting thrills via stock trading – and it’s to him I write each week, type of thing).

    Looking forward to seeing your Rant online, John – thanks for being a great role model – it counts. And have a blast in Florida, sounds like a top-shelf event.

    Ken Ca|houn

  • Landon Ray says:


    It’s great to hear someone talk about objectivity like this.. I’ve been tripping over how to put similar thoughts into words for a long time.

    In my experience, being able to see/understand another point of view is not only the core part of ‘growing up’ emotionally/spiritually/interpersonally, but also the key to success in most any endeavor.

    In my first career as a ninja Wall Street stock trader, the very same ability was my secret sauce. The answer was always to imagine what all the other players are feeling right now at this moment about their prospects of survival in this trade, and imagine how YOU would feel if you were in their position. Bullish, bearish, ready to jump?

    All I had to do was get out of my own skin, and take a look around.

    You’ve made the point clear that success in marketing takes the same insight.

    And success in our personal relationships.

    And success with our employees, bosses, clients.

    Thanks for the reminder, and the clarity. I’m going to add ‘get objective’ to my copywriting checklist.


  • Kelly says:

    Hi John,

    Wow, that really puts things into perspective. It’s something I practice in life, but not usually on paper, I don’t know why. When you’re constantly moving from one state to another and even one country to another, you come to the realization you’re perspective and outlook on life changes each time. This realization comes when you talk to friends and family from each of those places and you think, “Was that really what I believed? Was my outlook that narrow?” You think you’re open minded until something or someone comes along to give you a good smack in the face to change all that. Which happens often if you’re consistently putting yourself out there. But most aren’t and it’s evidenced by our segmented society, where each neighborhood and section of town is populated by people of similar backgrounds thinking that’s how they assimilate into the society when they are usually bringing their box from one place to another. hmmm. . . . something for me to think about. Thanks John!

  • […] was just reading John Carlton’s  post this morning (I suggest reading anything of his BTW, he is one of the best copywriters out […]

  • […] was just reading John Carlton’s  post this morning (I suggest reading anything of his BTW, he is one of the best copywriters out […]

  • Hi. John,
    I admire you decision to change tactics and focus on creating this blog. I understand what’s happening in the world of meatspace as it applies to hard copy. It’s going the way of the Grizzly.
    There’ll always be Griz, just not as many.

    I’m a relative newcommer to IM and it’s been difficult to sort through the din.
    I’m learning to tune out the noise though and when I do I can hear you loud and clear.

    I wish that I’d found you sooner but, I guess that’s the road I’ve had to travel.

    Your post resonated with me John. I’m a student of human nature and if I’ve learned anything in my 52+ years, it’s that everyone has their own unique point of view. Most have value.

    Unfortunately, I can’t physically see through their eyes, so my only recourse is to put myself in their place through the magic of imagination and try to understand why they see and do what they do.

    Sometimes I’m successful.

    I’m hoping to add to my success by reading your blog.

    Best James

  • Ed Mudge says:

    Hi John,
    Excellent Blog!
    Your analogy of walking a mile in another mans shoes is exactly what I was told to practice a long, long time ago. Alas, I thought my father was just an old man, blowing off steam that didn’t(at the time) seem to have much validity to it. Whew! Was I ever wrong, as you know!
    I am now 71, my father has gone, and his words are now much more meaningful to me. I have tried to bring his philosophy into my core being in the last 10 years or so. Took me a long to time to “Get it”!
    Looking forward to reading your blog as often as possible. Keep up the great work that you have always done. There are a lot of people who can’t wait for the next post.

  • Udo says:

    The recipe

    Take 1 average human and add
    3…. slices of insight
    2…. pinches of tolerance
    1…. good measure of empathy
    1…. fresh stretch of imagination
    2…. big scoops of understanding
    1/2. dozen doses of forgiveness

    Mix thoroughly and pour into an uncomfortable pair of shoes belonging to someone else. Place on mental feet and walk until desired understanding is achieved.

    For better results add a large helping of heart while mixing.

  • […] He said, in this excellent and darkly funny article: […]

  • Rezbi says:

    Hey John,

    After re-reading this article, I just realized that I’ve already done the task you mention, at the end, on my blog today.

    I already have an inkling how this guy thinks because, being a teacher during the day, I see examples of this type of behavior all the time.

    Of course, it’s easier to understand, and much easier stomach, when the the examples I usually see are from kids who haven’t had much life experience yet.

    It’s a little different from a so-called adult who insists on “teaching” others how to behave, through the medium of his blog.

    Especially when it’s patently obvious that he still has a lot to learn about human behavior himself.


  • Abdul Rahman says:


    Have you ever read Simpleology by Mark Joyner? It’s interesting read and it deal with fallacy, perception and such. Maybe you should give him that book.

    And ask him to read Book II 20 times. Maybe he knows what’s wrong with his reality of the world.

  • […] Carlton made a very good point on his blog recently: He said, in this excellent and darkly funny article: “It’s really very straightforward: In Mr. A-hole’s mind, he’s a great guy. […]

  • […] does a whole lot more than the regular shotgun method advertising. For one, it is a two piece mailing so it increases your chances of the targeted person on keeping […]

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