February 20, 2016

Just Kidding...

If you tell a joke, but you know it's going to hurt someone, is it still a joke?

I knew someone who joked on me a lot. What I mean is that he made a lot of jokes at my expense. Not even necessarily in a group setting, where I was the butt of the joke and everyone was laughing but me. I mean one on one, he'd put me down, then communicate somehow that the thing he was putting down was funny or endearing. For example, I once told a joke that went over his head and his response was: You're so not funny, it's adorable. 

There were a lot of jokes of a similar style that served to downplay things that I was good at. Things that made me happy. Things that I was proud of. So, to me, the jokes felt like a gradual undermining of who I was. It wasn't fun for me. It was "just" a joke. Overall it felt like a bigger issue. 

One day I snapped and said, sarcastically, "I'm glad that you find hurting my feelings so amusing." He responded, "You really need to learn to take a joke." 

My calling him out was done in poor form, but my follow up was correct, and is the point of this post. I let him know that I couldn't change how the things he said made me feel. If someone insults you or hurts you, but follows it up with "just kidding," it doesn't make it less hurtful or insulting. You have no control over that. All you control is what you do in response. So he was suggesting, what? That I learn how to hide that I was upset? So he gets to do nothing about his behavior that he knows is hurting me and I get...hurt? 

That is bullying. It's emotional abuse. Plain and simple. 

There is more awareness around this type of bullying now, especially in schools, which is great. There needs to be awareness. "Just kidding" when you say something hurtful is a copout. You're asking that you not be held responsible for your own behavior and the effect you know you're having on another person. Responses like, "lighten up" "can't you take a joke?" "stop being so sensitive" are really just another way of saying "stop calling me out on this behavior." 

There are lots of different reasons that people joke in this kind of way. It may be that they're insecure in some way, and making fun of others takes the attention off of them and the things they worry that others might make fun of. It may be that this kind of "poking" at people gives them power, because after awhile people become aware that a mean joke may come and start, either consciously or subconsciously, working harder for the jokers approval. Now the bully gets catered to. At it's worst, it might be that the person enjoys the result of this kind of "joking". The person being made fun of gets a little quieter, or a little insecure. The playing field seems level now, to the bully, because whatever imbalance they perceived has been corrected. 

The logic goes: The joke went over my head. You've taken me down a notch by telling a joke that I didn't get. I'm embarrassed, and if I leave things as they are you might take that to mean that you're smarter or better than me. So you know what? You're bad at telling jokes. You aren't funny at all. We're on the same level, see?

Or it could simply be that upsetting and causing discomfort in others is the only goal. I've literally had an unhappy person say to me, "I really hate people like you, who are just happy." Sad but true. Some people are very unhappy, but rather than putting effort into changing that, they endeavor to bring others down. 

A lot of times people on the receiving end of this kind of "joking" just don't know how to handle it. It can be really confusing. If you don't have reason to "play" this way, it can be confusing when others do it. You have no motivation to insult your friends and then candy coat it in "humor." So why are they doing it to you? It can be really upsetting. 

If you can, honestly, just avoid that kind of negativity. Remove yourself from situations like that. Translation: Avoid people like that. It rarely changes. You may be tempted to give it back to them. Don't. That isn't a solution. You don't enjoy negativity, and you won't enjoy dishing it out any more than you enjoy "taking" it. If you can't avoid it, call it out. Try to do it maturely so as not to escalate things. Kindly point out to your bully that jokes are funny, and hurting people isn't funny. Remind your bully that a disregard for how their actions impact others is simply unacceptable. Be clear about your boundaries, and insist that they be acknowledged and respected. 

Because bullying is no joke. 


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