The exchange with Joe was getting heated. He was rude and disruptive, coming at me like a tough guy hell-bent on imposing his will. But I was not having it. I persisted in challenging him until it was clear we were getting nowhere. This man had no integrity and was not worth my time. In that moment, I made the conscious choice to risk it all.
"Your mind isn't right. You don't think about things correctly. Go fuck yourself!"
I threw Joe off the set, and he spent the next six hours sitting and, by all accounts, sulking inside a McDonald's a block away while we shut down filming. The next morning a group of senior executives flew in from Los Angeles to talk me off the ledge. They knew I was prepared to walk away, and they had a show to save.
"Jon, you can have creative disagreements with us, you can be angry with us, but you cannot tell an executive to go fuck himself!" the executive vice president told me.
But he realized I meant what I said, and that I was prepared to shut the show down. I might have been a young punk to television, but everyone from the gaffer to the sound guy was clear on where I stood. This wasn't just about the quality of the show. It was about my integrity. We resumed shooting and the subject was dropped. From that day on, I was never asked to film anything that wasn't truthful, and Joe never again appeared on my set (nor did he last at the network for long).
YOUR VALUES MATTER
I don't care who you are, where you come from, or what you do. There will always be moments in life where you must be prepared to face conflict. As long as you are living and breathing, there will come a point when you must stand up for yourself and what you believe in. You matter. Your values and opinions matter. Knowing this, how dare you stay silent in the face of a challenge? How dare you allow yourself to be bullied into disavowing your principles by anyone, be it a business adversary, a spouse, an employer, a family member, or a bunch of angry strangers on social media?
In a society as free as ours supposedly is, where we have been blessed with a depth of choices, we have an obligation to stand by the decisions we make or the identity we choose. Whether you are a young LGBTQ person or a born-again Christian, a Democrat or a Republican, a baseball player who kneels for the national anthem or a basketball player who stands, the day must come when you are prepared to step into the ring and fight for who you are and the things you care about, your Facebook "friends" be damned!
Yeah, that's right, I said it. We live in an era where any dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy of political groups or movements, on either side, can get people fired, doxed, or deplatformed. Speaking up can result in maligned reputations, families and lives threatened or destroyed. That's why, for many, conflict is scary. It leaves them frozen in fear, deflecting and even apologizing to avoid having to engage in vigorous debate. They would rather stay part of the silent majority, watching in quiet horror as all they hold dear gets eviscerated by a noisy few.
And how is that working out for you? The less often people take a stand, the more the mob rules. When you keep sitting there and taking all the abuse, you diminish yourself. You're not living your life fully, and you're giving away precious little pieces of your soul. But it's never enough for the bullies. The more you back down and apologize, refusing to engage in confrontation, the less they'll be satisfied and the more they will demand. Worst of all, you'll be letting yourself down.
I get it. The thought of conflict stirs in most of us, well, conflicting emotions. It can lead to disagreements that destroy friendships, make office politics unbearable, and, in the extreme, trigger riots, war, and bloodshed. You might be thinking, Wait a minute. Isn't the goal of civilization to reduce or eliminate conflict? War is bad. Strife between peoples is bad. Not necessarily. Would Hitler have been stopped? Would the Civil Rights Act have passed? On a personal level, would your kid finally have stood up to the schoolyard bully and ended the daily torment by fighting back? No, no, and no.
Without conflict, none of us stands for anything. But what we can gain when we are willing to engage in positive conflict is immense. I risked everything in that moment with Joe the TV executive. But we probably would not have made it to eight seasons and more than two hundred episodes of Bar Rescue had I not engaged in that conflict.
Today, we have rewritten the rules of reality television. Many of the fans among our more than 118 million unique viewers (at the time of writing) have said they love our show precisely because we are authentic and unscripted. We've inspired millions of small business owners to take back their lives and their businesses, and I've been blessed with a media platform that allows me to continue to inspire millions more. All because I was willing to go toe-to-toe with the network and battle for my right to uphold my values and keep it real.