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I wanted to post the following article because it contains some of the same thoughts that I've been wanting to express. I just wasn't able to articulate them so coherently and accurately. The article is concise, insightful, and well-written. In the next post I'm going to elaborate on this tricky subject and meanwhile share some of my own ideas.

It is written by Dr. Betty Phillips, who earned a Ph.D in psychology from Harvard University. She is a cancer survivor, and for over 30 years she has worked with families and individuals to help them face and conquer the many challenges in their lives.


http://www.bettyphillipspsychology.com/id74.html

 

 

Teasing: Just Joking?

This is an article that's been brewing in my mind for a number of years observing so many of my clients expressing confusion, frustration or depression following hurtful communications from others described as "just joking." When my clients attempt to label these communications as hostile, the usual come back is, "What's wrong with you? Can't you take a joke?"

Let's take a look at a continuum of these types of communications.

*Humorous jokes, funny remarks, perhaps a pun or play on words, with no personal target.
*Teasing, poking fun, wisecracks, directed at another person.
*Picking, needling, short negatively toned messages directed at another person.
*Biting humor, hostile remarks toward another person purported to be funny.
*Sarcasm, clever comments which belittle others under the guise of humor.
*Cynicism, insults, communications to another when hostile intent is less disguised.

The façade of humor is increasingly lost across this continuum, while the amount of direct hostility increases toward a personal target. Pure jokes are not a problem. Any of these kinds of communications delivered without a real personal target can also be funny or entertaining. Many standup comics use this type of negative humor which does entertain because the intended target is not a real person. Sarcastic comments can provoke spontaneous audience laughter based upon the comedian's wit and dexterity with words. The audience laughs with relief that the hostility in the comment is directed toward a hypothetical other person. For example, a few remarks by Groucho Marx: "No, Groucho is not my real name. I am breaking it in for a friend." "I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it."

When can teasing be playful, affectionate and bonding between two people? When it is reciprocal between individuals of equal personal power, mutually agreeable as to the tone and content of the teasing, and when there is no direct or indirect hostile undertone. Friends or couples can set up these playful and positive interaction patterns which cause no confusion or harm. The safest of these teasing interactions will be structured and ritualized so that the comments and retorts are expected and the laughing is lighthearted. Spontaneous teasing is more dangerous to relationships than are scripted comments because irritation toward the other person can creep into the teasing causing the affection to turn into put-downs and belittling masked as humor. I would also avoid teasing between parents and children. The personal power of the adult is always stronger than the child, and the adult's remarks can slip too easily into taunting instead of positive joking. Children have less experience with this medium of communication, and their attempts at joking turn too quickly into sarcastic comments or insults. Instead, communication between parents and children should be mutually respectful. A good book of children's jokes should suffice for parent-child humor, such as "knock knock" jokes or "chicken crossing the road" jokes.

Back to my original concern. Hostile teasing, picking, biting humor or sarcasm too often are insults poorly disguised as humor. They also are "double bind" communications which cause confusion, frustration, personal pain and anger in the recipient. The disguised message runs as follows. "I'm making fun of you and belittling you, but it's only humor. I don't really mean what I just said. There's something wrong with you when you don't accept my statements at face value as teasing even though my words are in fact critical and hostile." The more clever and witty the comment, the more difficult it is to respond. Sarcasm is especially problematic as the words often convey the opposite of the intended meaning. For example, let's say that you try to respond to teasing with a joke of your own. A sarcastic response delivered in a mocking tone, "that's so clever, ha,ha" negates your joke, making it difficult for you to respond in any constructive manner.

What to do? Its difficult to just walk away from the person taunting you because more of the same comments will likely follow. You will have to learn to be assertive and stand up to this kind of derogatory communication. "Call a spade a spade." That is, try to unmask the negative undertone or hostile intent of the picking or hurtful teasing. You can give your tormentor a copy of this article. You can ask that the person examine his or her intent in making these kinds of comments. If you receive an apology or a statement of intent to change, see if the two of you can script a playful teasing interaction. If you continue to receive hostile "teasing" comments, you can decide to seek out a therapist or couples counselor. You might look for therapists trained in the Gottman approach to couples counseling. This approach considers cynical and sarcastic comments as part of an attitude of contempt toward the spouse which predicts impending divorce unless a respectful at equilibrium is reestablished through therapeutic interventions.

Please let this article be a sign that teasers should carefully consider the results of their "jokes" on friends, loved ones and family members. Recipients of teasing and picking should consider their options carefully and decide how to protect themselves from these confusing and hurtful interactions. Fun is fun, but most teasing is not.

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I thought I was done writing about all these seemingly unimportant stuff but this is another topic that grabbed my interest. And it is somewhat related but not limited to my recent interactions here in this forum as you may notice. However, this time I'm going to explain everything from a zoomed-out perspective. That means I'm not going to go into specifics; I'm not going to quote endless posts or analyze what someone said here and there and whatnot. Instead I want this post to be viewed as a gentle reminder for you as well as myself.
 
As you can see above, outlined in the article that I posted, there is an assorted spectrum of communications between pure jokes and mockery. There is in fact a considerable difference between the two. Yet the boundaries that separate the different layers of communication as we move up and down the continuum are almost invisible. We all know that a joke is not the same as an insult. Yet the two very often seem to be intertwined and then we are left confused about how to respond to them (or whether we should respond to them in the first place). This ambiguity is what allows people to say hostile and hurtful things to others and later on justify them as merely a joke when it is not well-received.
 
So the question is, how do you deal with such a problem? For this I have come up with three options: Ignore, tit-for-tat, or call a spade a spade.
 
Let's discuss each of them briefly:
 
1. Call a spade a spade. In the current context it means to "try to unmask the negative undertone or hostile intent of the picking or hurtful teasing," as the author of the article puts it. I tested this method a few times already, but I learned that this is very often fruitless and comes across too intrusive, even if I am right. The person who did the teasing might feel kind of stunned or freak out and react with responses like "I promise I was joking ... jeez relax!" Or perhaps he might have been slightly serious, but after being exposed he may unconsciously try to convince his own self that it was purely a joke, not possessing even a sliver of truth behind it.
 
2. The "tit-for-tat" strategy is when a person responds to a sarcastic or biting humor from another person in a similar fashion. But of course, this is also not good, because more of the same will follow and the insults are likely to escalate unless one of them backs away. The two responders involved, in the end, will have achieved nothing but fling mud at one another. In my opinion, even a direct and undisguised criticism (and not worded too harshly) is more favorable than an insult masked as a joke. The latter usually comes in the form of sarcasm. Unfortunately, some people think that sarcasm is cool and so sometimes they will use it as clever, witty put-downs. No, that is not cool. Rather it indicates that the person is rude and impatient.
 
3. The ignore option is probably the best. This means to not reply to comments which you feel may contain an intentionally antagonistic undertone. I've made the mistake of replying to such comments in the past. It is still a little bit of a struggle for me it seems. So I know that this is easier said than done. However, sometimes people will make a sarcastic comment which is intended mainly to weaken a particular argument, and not necessarily meant as a put-down. So some sarcasms are argument-oriented, some are character-oriented (i.e. insult), and others are a mixture of both; if the sarcasm seems to be aimed mainly against an argument you made, then I think it is okay to respond to that.
 
That said, let me now tie all the points above into a more general and important theme.
 
I know that some of you didn't like how I was nitpicking on casual conversations, overanalyzing jokes, interpreting certain comments too seriously, etc. I agree that I was overdoing it. But at the same time, I don't think this behavior is actually as bad and condemnable as some of you might be tempted to suggest.
 
To start with, sometimes we don't check our own intentions before we say or write something. This is especially problematic if we have an overly nonchalant attitude with regards to teasing and joking with others. Remember the hadith where the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wassalam) said:
 
"A slave (of Allah) may utter a word which pleases Allah without giving it much importance, and because of that Allah will raise him to degrees (of reward): a slave (of Allah) may utter a word (carelessly) which displeases Allah without thinking of its gravity and because of that he will be thrown into the Hell-Fire." (Sahih Bukhari)
 
There is more reason for caution when we reflect on the hadith in relation to the article that I posted.
 

Here are more insights from another article:

 

Quote
"Humor is a tool like any other," says Robert L. Weiss, a psychologist at the University of Oregon who studies humor in relationships. "People use humor in lots of different ways, including some negative ones. It's not just one monolithic thing." Almost every sweet, supportive way of using it has an evil twin; an aggressive, selfish or manipulative version. And like those teasing comments in the workplace that can just as easily feel like flattery or an attack, the two sides of humor are so intimately intertwined, it almost isn't funny.
 
Quote
A joke's basic structure - in which you say one thing and mean another - is exactly what makes it such a useful tool in human relationships. "Humor is inherently ambiguous. That's how it works. You're saying more than one thing, and it's never clear exactly what the message is," says Martin. It allows us to put out ideas in a tentative way, and change them if they're not well received. It's a flexible communication strategy, a way of exploring the conversational terrain.
 
Quote
The ambiguity of humor also allows people to express hostility without taking responsibility. "Just kidding," they'll say, after delivering a punch line that feels more like a sucker punch. Often the very same comments can seem either supportive or undermining, affiliative or hostile, depending on the context and the dynamic. "Where you draw the line between healthy and unhealthy uses is very unclear," says Martin.
 
 
 
Now of course, I do not want MM to turn into a humorless and depressing place for us. In fact, the opposite is true. I like jokes, puns, pranks, cat memes, and funny things. I also appreciate a bit of teasing and trolling, as long as I feel that there isn't a malicious undertone behind it. I laugh at many of the comments that I read on MM (though I don't write the "lol" as frequently). Maybe others here do not perceive me this way since I like to show a more solemn exterior on purpose. Also, I believe that an essential part of respecting members (and people in general) requires letting them be who they want to be, how they talk, who they talk to, etc. But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't even remind them nor recommend what I think is better for them.
 
My main point is that we shouldn't think of "jokes" as simply that, treating it in such a very narrow and oversimplified manner that some people might try to fool us into thinking. "Oh c'mon, it's only a joke!" No. Humor is like a double-edged sword. It can cut both ways. There are both beneficial and detrimental styles of humor (see this interview with psychologist Rod Martin). Understanding this, I believe, will automatically cause us to become more careful when we joke with or tease those around us. And sure, everyone makes mistakes, in all affairs in life, and so we should be merciful towards one another also.
 
Lastly, in case some of you haven't been able to fully grasp or appreciate what I have written here, feel free to unleash your sarcastic and deeply hateful comments in this thread. The gloves are finally off, so now go ahead and tell me what a big fool I am for making this post ... and then give it a sarcastic LIKE. :grin:
 

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The post I liked makes sense to me. Yes there are plenty of people in the world who will make the sarcastic jokes, both light hearted, and the opposite not so nice jokes. The way I understand it is that for some folks, in particular people who make not so nice jokes, it's just a force of habit more than anything. It's a part of their personality. I know an individual at work who, for as long as I've known him always feels the need to make a sarcastic joking comment, which I've never found funny. I have no idea what that type of person feels on their end, and if it genuinely satisfies them to be demeaning to others, or if it's just a constant defense mechanism. What I've noticed about people who are like that in real life is that they are pretty lonely and miserable people because who wants to be in the company of a person like that for long lol.

 

There are people here from all walks of life, most of whom we barely know, so if you begin a discussion on any topic, it's a given that there will be many kinds of responses. Having said that, I think most of us on here are old enough to know what is appropriate to say.

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I liked the one liners thrown into Once Upon a Time but I wish they would have sung the song :P

 

I know that some of you didn't like how I was nitpicking on casual conversations, overanalyzing jokes, interpreting certain comments too seriously, etc. I agree that I was overdoing it. But at the same time, I don't think this behavior is actually as bad and condemnable as some of you might be tempted to suggest.

 

Imo, I don't see an issue with analysing conversations and interpreting, but the problem was that you were insisting that your interpretation was correct over the people who were actually involved in those conversations and you kept pushing that agenda. Interpreting other people's behaviour is a normal human function, it is how we make sense of the world around us, but you have to be open to another person's interpretation also.

 

My main point is that we shouldn't think of "jokes" as simply that, treating it in such a very narrow and oversimplified manner that some people might try to fool us into thinking. "Oh c'mon, it's only a joke!" No. Humor is like a double-edged sword. It can cut both ways. There are both beneficial and detrimental styles of humor (see this interview with psychologist Rod Martin). Understanding this, I believe, will automatically cause us to become more careful when we joke with or tease those around us. And sure, everyone makes mistakes, in all affairs in life, and so we should be merciful towards one another also.

 

When you don't know someone its not easy to read them so you do have to be careful how you interact. I'm a very blunt and sarcastic person, but I very rarely use it to insult someone. The person would really have to be getting on my nerves or be really stupid for me to use sarcasm on them. That said, my friends are the same. If I posted some of the convo's we've had you would probably think we hate each other. But, we know and understand each other's humour style and we know each other. I would never have to tell them "hey, its a joke" they would know not to take me seriously. So the way I see it, you have to not just understand the different styles of humour, you have to be able to read and understand the people you are with.

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When you don't know someone its not easy to read them so you do have to be careful how you interact. I'm a very blunt and sarcastic person, but I very rarely use it to insult someone. The person would really have to be getting on my nerves or be really stupid for me to use sarcasm on them. That said, my friends are the same. If I posted some of the convo's we've had you would probably think we hate each other. But, we know and understand each other's humour style and we know each other. I would never have to tell them "hey, its a joke" they would know not to take me seriously. So the way I see it, you have to not just understand the different styles of humour, you have to be able to read and understand the people you are with.

 

I guess that's the thing. I underestimated the fact that the impact of jokes are extremely variable depending on the relationship and familiarity of the persons involved.

 

If someone who is not very nice to you makes a sarcastic remark, you are likely to interpret that negatively. On the other hand, if one of your friends says the same exact thing, then you will interpret that in a positive and humorous way. I was under the assumption that MMers are mostly strangers to another, so I expected them to be a little more clear about their intentions when they joke. But, as you said, if they know each other well enough then they don't need to give a "Hey, it's a joke" type of signal to each other. They will understand automatically that it's a joke. Maybe it was just me who felt more like a stranger and outsider, so I was interpreting their conversations mainly through my own lens and thereby overlooked the social/interpersonal dynamics of humor (and conversation styles for that matter). Maybe that's why I interpreted the jokes too literally and couldn't accept others' interpretation.

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If I showed you https://youtu.be/om7O0MFkmpw would you pick out the sarcasm?

 

He is basically making a sarcasm of the idea of taking certain words and phrases too literally ... right?

 

But I already sensed a bit of sarcasm from his voice and body language.

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I guess that's the thing. I underestimated the fact that the impact of jokes are extremely variable depending on the relationship and familiarity of the persons involved.

 

If someone who is not very nice to you makes a sarcastic remark, you are likely to interpret that negatively. On the other hand, if one of your friends says the same exact thing, then you will interpret that in a positive and humorous way. I was under the assumption that MMers are mostly strangers to another, so I expected them to be a little more clear about their intentions when they joke. But, as you said, if they know each other well enough then they don't need to give a "Hey, it's a joke" type of signal to each other. They will understand automatically that it's a joke. Maybe it was just me who felt more like a stranger and outsider, so I was interpreting their conversations mainly through my own lens and thereby overlooked the social/interpersonal dynamics of humor (and conversation styles for that matter). Maybe that's why I interpreted the jokes too literally and couldn't accept others' interpretation.

 

Do you feel that you interpreted posts better when you were more regular, back in the days when the forum was more active? You've also had a bit of an absence whilst a handful of us have hung around here getting up in each other's faces without break and that absence and break may also affect how you read people's posts, do you think? I wouldn't say you're an outsider, more like you've been away for too long and may have forgotten the general dynamics.

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Do you feel that you interpreted posts better when you were more regular, back in the days when the forum was more active? You've also had a bit of an absence whilst a handful of us have hung around here getting up in each other's faces without break and that absence and break may also affect how you read people's posts, do you think? I wouldn't say you're an outsider, more like you've been away for too long and may have forgotten the general dynamics.

 

Sounds like a sensible argument ... I was wondering that also. Maybe if I wasn't away for so long (it was nearly 3 years I think) and not have so many periodic breaks even after coming back, I might have interpreted posts a little differently. I would've gotten more used to the general dynamics between members and so maybe I wouldn't have made such a big deal out of minor and negligible things. After coming back I started to feel like I was MM's bad underdog all of a sudden (maybe I did change a little?) but it also feels refreshing in a way. Hehe.

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Of course there are true layers to humor. Where we find your interpretations so difficult to fathom, is in your identification of the truthful part.

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