Monday, 25 May 2015

An Example of Harm

The topic this week is harm. It's the basis of my ethics, and it makes it very simple, and yet we still have to analyze harm.

I'd like you to take a look at this article.

This may well be the most difficult thing we do when it comes to human behaviour. 

What we have here is a person being harmed, because of his choices. These choices are harmless. 

When you read that article, whether or not you have sympathy for the boy, you may also have considered the idea that doing what the school suggests is a compromise, that is to say, not the real solution, but a solution. 


If you think that a compromise includes effectively agreeing with the people doing the harm, then the harm continues.

If you think that, in this example, by leaving it at home, it will end the bullying, you're mistaken. The lunchbox is not the problem. 

Our society simply has not addressed the real problem, and we don't teach the real solution.

I consider myself to be qualified to teach this because at that age, I know I would have teased him too. That would have been wrong, but I had not been taught well. Despite being taught generally to be kind to other people, I was getting mixed messages. All around me were people criticizing the choices of others. Children are very influenced by what they hear, and they hear far more than you think. So I didn't understand. 

Around me were other children who were nicer than me, and who would not have teased him. And yet, now, when they are supposed to be old and wise, and with all those years behind them of knowing "it's not nice to tease", I witness them being extremely judgemental about people's choices. Have they forgotten? Have they changed? No, they never really understood it in the first place. They were just following what they were taught. Instead of maturity bringing realisation, it brought bad habits, because they weren't really paying attention.

I was a slow learner, and it took me a long time to understand all of this, but once I did, I became quite passionate about it, because I could see how important it was. 

So, while the article is a perfect example of the problem, it's only one tiny example. The problem itself is enormous.

When was the last time you ridiculed the choice of another person? Be honest with yourself. We all do it, all of us. No exceptions. We do it often, and we do it over and over. I've done it once today, and I know I'll do it again before the day is out. None of this makes it right. Just because we all do it, just because it's "human nature", that doesn't excuse it. OK?

If you insist it was only in your head, and never shared, it's still wrong. If you insist it was shared with others, but not the person concerned, it's still wrong. If you came right out and ridiculed the person to his or her face (or in text) then it's even more wrong. But let's go back to your private thoughts. 

You saw this person's choice. It would not have been your choice. That much is not a problem. We are allowed to have different choices. But in some way, you think your choice is better than theirs. That's very arrogant. 

Ah, but you say, their choice makes no sense! That may be true, but who said you had any right to understand it? 

BUT RELAX. The ability to find absurdity in observation of the world around us, and not understanding it, is the basis of humour. If we take that away, we have no humour, and we must have humour. But like everything else, there is a limit. That limit is the all-important aspect of what constitutes harm. And this isn't so simple.

I'm going to show you a few funny "memes".

This is considered "dark" humour. It may offend people for its tastelessness, or because they are animal lovers. It may be upsetting to somebody who sees it who just lost a loved one. Imagine if that loved one had been hit by a car! But we can't cover all possibilities when we share humour, or there would be none. We can't always avoid offending people, because there will ALWAYS be somebody, somewhere who takes offence. Is this a harmless joke? If it was voted on it would probably get about 50%. One thing is certain, the joke does not harm the raccoon. He's past caring.

This could be considered potentially offensive to those who don't speak English, but my guess is that most of them, seeing it translated, would be amused. I don't think any offence was meant here, and in a vote my guess is that this would be seen around 90% harmless, possibly higher.

This is a sort of pun. Probably 95% harmless or more. Would not be funniy if a loved one had recently died from a burst appenfix, but again, you can't really allow for all possibilities. However if you deliberately showed it to somebody in that situation, it would be cruel. Still it's not the joke that's the problem, it's the intent.

Ah. Anyone like to shuffle their feet? Ever told one? Ever laughed at one? 40 years ago it might have been acceptable, because we hadn't clued in. A rape victim would not have laughed though. Are they the only ones to be offended? No. Rape jokes are not offensive because any given person is offended, they are simply offensive. How to combat rape jokes? Don't laugh. When you are asked why you don't laugh, ask them why they do.

Another pun. Totally harmless. Is this offensive? Of course not. Except that when I saw it posted, it was done specifically to have a dig at a person known to be "into" videos of UFOs etc. This person has been teased a bit, quite gently, but this image was meant to poke fun at him. I don't think he was offended, nevertheless an otherwise 100% harmless joke was aimed at a person. I don't think any harm was done, but I offer it as an example that this stuff is a bit complex sometimes. 

The harm therefore, is not always in the joke, but in the intent. Harm is frequently in the intent. Sometimes it's in the neglect, but rarely is it truly accidental.

When we riducule others, however we do it, it's not accidental. It is based on our belief that our choices are better than theirs. Even when it's in pure fun, if we analyze it, that's what's going on.

Nobody, least of all me, is suggesting that we never do this. Teasing is a part of human interaction, and to a greater or lesser extent it's actually quite important (whole other topic). The important part, and the difficult part, is stopping before it's harmful.

When that limit is reached, it is reached because the victim chooses it to be so. It is never the joker's right to decide.

As a mother, and in fact as a woman in a house full of men, I watch this constantly, the interaction and joking around between them, and I watch how they choose how to bring a stop to it. It's very interesting. This grey area between fun and bad behaviour fascinates me because it's a key aspect of self-control and recognizing the good guys from the arseholes.

Sometimes otherwise good guys cross a line. In the heat of the moment they fail to stop when signals have been given that it's time to stop. Some fail more than others. Especially if any drinking has been going on.

So, there can be no hard and fast rules, you have to learn, over time, from experience when enough is enough.

What the world does NOT need, is people in authority giving permission for the jokers to win. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree...and part of the ethical problem (the double-edged sword that it is) lies in the proper use of judgment (yuck) in getting one's story out to begin with. Having just read about the tribulations of a relatively famous musician/composer reliving the struggle in getting his story of child abuse out (as a way to open dialog) reminded me that we often victimize those who have already been abused. It is this very cycle of 'bullying' (no matter if it is My Little Pony, lunch money, or worse) that uses intimidation to exact silence. Bothers me deeply, and the struggle continues. Looking forward to you additional explorations. ~ Blessings! <3