Laugh with Me!

I like teasing people. Most people don’t get that about me right away, because I have to be pretty comfortable around someone before I start teasing them, but I really enjoy it. I don’t think I am so unusual in that regard. Everyone likes teasing other people once in a while, but not so many people enjoy being teased.

It is quite true, teasing can be “taken too far” as they say. I have seen personally family situations and both friendly and romantic relationships in which one person was always teasing the other. Sarcasm, sharp jabs, personal jokes shared in front of strangers or casual acquaintances. Sometimes it is simply ignorance. The person telling the joke or making the remark may simply not see how it is affecting the other person. This happens all the times with parents and their kids. Many parents have no hesitation telling embarrassing stories about their children to other grownups, often in front of the children themselves. They either do not notice (because the child refuses to show it) how much this bothers the child, or they dismiss it saying, “Oh, honey, it’s all right. We’re all friends here.” Certainly very bad psychology, and of questionable value in teaching children to “lighten up.” Grownups may be very dismissive of their children’s pains, because with the benefit of age and experience they can see how minor their troubles really are. There is some truth to that, and it is of course a parent’s job to facilitate their child learning that perspective. What they don’t realize is that the child is very small, so a small pain is proportionally just as serious as a large pain to an adult. Also, perspective can only be gained so fast. Children age in God’s good time, not at the prodding of impatient adults. In my experience attacking someone’s psychological vulnerabilities is not the approach most likely to get them to relax.

Another common scenario for this type of abuse is a situation in which a boy and a girl are old, familiar friends, meeting with another boy who is good friends with the boy, but not with the girl. Because the two boys are close friends, he may well be comfortable sharing jokes and stories about the girl. She however, because she does not know this other guy, may not be comfortable with these stories being shared.

Just as common as this type of ignorance, however, is malice. So many times I have seen “humor” and “good natured banter” used as nothing more than thin veils to disguise very real malice. Hatred in fact, and we have all seen it and experienced it. Indeed, if you have not yourself done it more than once, you are blessed beyond belief. For my part I know that I have been guilty of it.

You can see it in couples putting on the “loving couple” show, but secretly loathing each other’s guts. Who has not been at a party or barbecue and seen a couple arrive together, holding hands, smiling and constantly insulting each other. “Oh, did you hear my genius husband’s latest exploit? He tried to save us money by fixing the toilet himself instead of hiring a plumber. Next thing I know I hear water splashing in the bathroom and this guy is cursing up a storm. He got sprayed all over with toilet water. Man all of a sudden he couldn’t get to the phone book to find a plumber fast enough. Tracked water all over my floor.”

Then the husband laughs and says, “Yeah but the best part is I had to leave for work so guess who cleaned it all up? Yeah, joke’s on you honey.” Or after a mocking comment the mocker laughs and says, “Oh don’t be so serious, I’m only joking.” But he isn’t joking at all. He just can’t take responsibility for what he really wants to say.

Everyone watching and listening hears the hatred, the intent to cause pain. It is so palpable it makes you cringe, but the couple cannot seem to find any other way to manage whatever issues they have.
This isn’t limited to couples with extreme marital issues. It isn’t limited to couples at all. Parents do it to children, children to parents, sibling to sibling, friend to friend. Even the healthiest relationships are relationships between broken human beings, and when broken human beings get angry we very easily resort to hate, or at the very least stop keeping track of what the other person is feeling. With our proclivity for very ordinary selfishness, it doesn’t take much to make us nasty, even if we instantly regret it.

With these possibilites it is no wonder if some people I know consider any teasing at all intrinsically ill-natured. “Who would Jesus tease?” They ask, not as the rather interesting hypothetical question that it really is, but in a rhetorical fashion. The implication is that Jesus would never tease anyone, that it is irreverent to think of Jesus joking at all, and that even if you must tell jokes (as a concession to human weakness) they must never be at someone else’s expense. That’s like saying you must never eat or drink at another’s expense. However, if we followed that rule literally there would be no hospitality. There has to be a legitimate way to laugh at another’s expense in such a way that it makes them richer, just as these is a way to allow someone else to pay for your meal in such a way that they are richer for it. I believe there is such a way, and tomorrow I will post about that.

1 Comment

  1. I try to avoid this but I am sure I have done it to someone before. My father does it to me all of the time; in some of his annoyed or angry moments he lets me know that he means those barbs. I'm a loser in just about every way, and he thinks so whether he jokes about it or says it in anger. My friends sometimes go a bit too far and I have gotten annoyed before because I get tired of being the butt of everyone's joke. Teasing can hurt.


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