Thursday, 20 March 2014

I Was Only Joking.

You know, there are lots of things, lots of people out there that you don't understand. And probably the hardest thing any of us ever do is accept the things we don't understand. Please muse on that thought for a moment.

I'm not talking about string theory, by the way. That's a blog post for another day.

No, I mean human stuff. Why your neighbour is so quiet and reserved, why your colleague is a philanderer, why your aunt is depressed, why your nephew is a drug addict. You don't understand this, because it isn't you.

But also really MINOR things. Weird things. Why your brother collects pens. Why your grandfather hums a lot. Why your teacher wears orange lipstick. Why your teammate calls his dog "petal".

You say "I don't get it." Well, you are not expected to. Moreover, your not getting it has no value. None. Nobody cares that you don't get it. You are not expected to understand. It's not your life, and it's not your problem. You may never understand. So what? It doesn't do you any harm at all, so you don't need to do or say anything. Society is a very broad range of people, we are all different and we have every opportunity to shrug at those who are different to us. But we don't, do we, what we often do, some more so than others, is tease. Jibe. "Joke". Why?

When people do things, or behave in a way totally alien to you, it is awfully difficult to just say "well, that's just how he is" and move on, but unless it directly affects you, it really is the best option. So why do we opt for poking fun?

Trust me, I know how hard it is not to react. I have one of those faces that is out of control. My eyes widen, my eyebrows go up, you can see what I'm thinking. But that's my problem. I have a responsibility to decide what happens next.

Fred has a truck that has the wheels lifted up. It's like a wannabe monster truck but it's an old, smaller truck and it looks silly. Why the hell did he do that?

Look, it's not your truck, and it's not your money. It's therefore none of your business.

You have the right to your opinion that it looks silly. What you don't have the right to do is ridicule him for it, either to his face or to others, and you certainly have no business judging his character by his choice of truck customization. Does it hurt you? No.

I put it to you (that's you, you reading this) that in small ways and big, on a regular basis, you are guilty of making fun, in your head, of people who, like Fred, make choices that baffle you. Yes, you do. You do. Hey, I know I do.

And we are wrong in doing this.

It is not wrong to have that opinion. It's natural. Fred almost certainly has opinions about us in much the same way.

It's perfectly human to be baffled by other peoples's tastes, choices, and decisions.

Sometimes, it's fun to joke about it. To tease a bit. But you have to think about this carefully. Do they see the joke? Are they laughing too? Are they doing so because they're enjoying it or out of politeness, embarrassment, or fear? If you decide it's OK, you must still be very careful not to overdo it, and to watch the reaction, so that nobody gets hurt. If in doubt, DON'T.

But most importantly you must remember that if it's harmless, that is to say, this baffling hobby or behaviour is not hurting anyone, or anybody's property, then if you are unkind about it, then you are an arsehole.

I'll just say that again, in case it's not clear.

If you mock a person about a totally harmless thing that they do, you are an arsehole.

And you've done it. And so have I. We have all done it, but that doesn't make it right.

The only right thing to do, is to try with every damn fibre of our being, to not do it again. I mean really make an effort.

Nowhere - absolutely nowhere - is it written that you have any right to decide how people spend their time or their money.

It is none of your fucking business.

Some of this stuff isn't funny at any level. Some of this stuff gets people hurt.

But before I get to that, let's deal with the arguments that arise from ANY suggestion that we keep our thoughts to ourselves.

First, there is that objection that an action is harmless. This is open to debate.

Then there's the valid point that we are not obliged to keep silent on our opinions. Free speech and all that.

And let's not forget that sometimes a criticism is fair and justified.

These are all exceptions we can discuss with ease, and I have, on previous blog posts. No, we don't have to be vacuous toadies agreeing humbly with everyone and never speaking our minds. That's not it.

Life would be incredibly dull without debates, formal or otherwise.

And let's not forget that our sense of humour truly is often based on the bizarre things others do.

This is where discernment comes in. On a sliding scale......

1. You can keep it inside your head. You can. I know how hard it is, but you can. This is a real option.

2. You can share it with somebody discreetly without mentioning names. The graphic above says enough for us to all share a moment without hurting anyone's feelings.

3. You can share it with someone who won't repeat it. You may need to be careful here.

4. You can find a careful way to express surprise at a choice. Parents have to do this all the time. Kids have feelings too and if you ridicule their hair/music/clothes they probably won't see the joke.

The guiding principle is kindness. Is it unkind to say anything? Then don't.

If the person you want to have a bit of fun with is thick-skinned, has a really good sense of humour, can give as good as they get, knows you mean no harm, and so on, you can get away with more. But there is still a limit. The person who gets to decide what that limit is, is the recipient of the opinions. You see? It is NOT up to you to say "oh get over it, I was only kidding". It is never OK to dismiss somebody else's feelings, even if they seem over-sensitive to you. They're not your feelings.

Now I'd like to return to the point that sometimes it's never funny at all.

Where does teasing become bullying?

Sometimes the way people are is not a choice. Their behaviour is a direct result of some quirk in their personality or their neurology. Sometimes their whole way of being is a result of DNA or some other physical aspect they have no control over.

Among your circles, is there anyone who makes fun of the disabled? If there is, chances are they are not people you like or respect. You wouldn't choose them as friends.

Why? Because you know this is wrong. It's unkind, it's unnecessary, and it's shallow. These are not good people. They KNOW it's wrong, but they choose to do it anyway.

What about race? Do you know anyone who wouldn't admit to being a bigot but nevertheless makes fun of people with a different skin colour? That's not a good person. That is somebody who AT THE VERY LEAST has a corrupt sense of humour. Chances are they are actually racist, i.e. they would discriminate against a person based on that skin colour.

You probably don't approve of that type of "humour", even if you have to put up with it, because you know it's basically stupid and wrong. Just wrong.

And you know that this sort of "fun" can lead to violence, to physical harm.

But you probably do allow blond jokes, Newfie jokes (or whatever the equivalent is where you live), and so on because you're used to them. You don't think about them. You never take the time to stop and think "is this really OK?". Not only that, if you say "Woah, hold on, there are blond people listening" the "jokers" will turn you on you. They'll accuse you of being politically correct. They'll tell you to lighten up.

So. What do we do? Do we all become very serious and boring?

Actually, no. You can have lots of fun if you are just aware of what you say, how you say it, and who to. That's all this is about - awarenessKnowing when to stop. Knowing when to just keep your thoughts to yourself. Testing yourself for unkindness.

As I said, I do know how hard this is. I'm not accusing you of something I don't struggle with myself. I just don't think cheap laughs are worth the pain they cause other people. I am easily amused, and it's very hard not to be sometimes. People are absurd. But what I want more than anything else, is to be kind. To encourage rather than discourage. To help rather than hinder in the confidence and personal growth in others.

And if, inside your head, you remind yourself that you really don't want to be unkind, you can get control over your words.

I choose to choose my words, will you join me?

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