Knowing where to draw the line can make all the difference between friendly teasing and a mean-spirited attack.
Most teasing fulfills a natural tendency to poke fun. Done thoughtfully, it can help strengthen the bonds of friendship. Done thoughtlessly, it can destroy that friendship.
I attended a roast where one presenter’s comments were so harsh that no one laughed at anything he said; thankfully he sat down without finishing. The other presenters made up for the one failure and all had a good time for the rest of the evening.
If you listen to the late night comedians, you can hear some stinging judgments of their targets. Some of these are funny and others are cringe-worthy and mean-spirited.
If you struggle to know what might cross the line, think about respecting everyone’s dignity.
David Letterman’s Line
Someone explained David Letterman’s philosophy in an interview: “Attack the wicked and the powerful, don’t belittle their victims. … we are free to attack what is volitional, but not those things over which a person has no control.” That is the clearest definition of the line I’ve read.
There shouldn’t be any question about not attacking or belittling victims. The part differentiating between the volitional (by choice) and that over which the person has no control best informs the line and gives us a standard for decision making. The example given: “It’s all right to attack an actor’s bad acting, but not his big nose.”
Making fun of something over which a person has no control attacks the person’s very being, their dignity.
The late night shows all push the boundaries, some more than others. If you listen, you can easily tell where they crossed the line. If you put yourself in the shoes of the target, I imagine you can also easily tell the difference, feel the sting of the attacks on dignity.
Some friends find it fun and funny to verbally attack each other. I’ve heard some bantering I thought were quite mean-spirited. These groups all seem to have agreed upon this behavior; one hopes they didn’t force anyone into agreeing. When someone enjoys attacking another, even in fun, they always receive some sort of payout or perceived benefit. You have to ask them to explain what that is as I can’t. If everyone in the group agrees, then they agree to move the line and live with the consequences.
It Always Comes Down To Respect
In civilized society, people expect manners. With so many people living in close proximity, civility and respect are integral parts of maintaining order. This applies to fun as much as to other parts of life. Humor crosses the line when it attacks a person’s dignity, and can lead to conflict.
Take a stand for civility.