Larry loves to tease Nancy. He teases her about her very high heels, her long wavy tresses – he finds no shortage of reasons to tease her.
Teasing people is normal, and often healthy. Sometimes, however, it is less than healthy. It can cause the person being teased to become self conscious, lose their self confidence, stress and even feel traumatized. Consider all the young (and older) girls with bad body images because they are teased.
This begs the question: what can you tease someone about and still remain respectful? It is easy to say you were just kidding, but you never know how someone will interpret your remarks, how many times they might have heard the same message, their history and often not even their level of sensitivity. It is not respectful to simply tell the person to get over it, to let it go. To avoid harming the person and/or causing a strain in a relationship, it is in your best interest to maintain respect at all times.
Many years ago I read an article about someone who had worked with David Letterman. When writing humor for Letterman’s show, this man (Cohen) stated: “He [Letterman] had a good principle: Attack the wicked and the powerful, don’t belittle their victims. So the questions were always, ‘Who do you attack and why do you attack?’ His philosophy was that we are free to attack what is volitional, but not those things over which a person has no control.” What a clear and powerful statement!
Teasing is not the same as comedy, but this is a great guideline for teasing as well. Letterman’s criteria means it is okay to tease someone about wearing 5 inch heels, but not about their large feet; it is okay to tease about the style of glasses they chose but not about the fact they need glasses (“four eyes”); it is okay to tease someone about the color lipstick, not the oversized lips.
Of course, it is always a good idea to have a good relationship with a person before teasing so you have a sense of what might be acceptable. Some people are less open to teasing of any kind, and it is wise to respect that sensitivity. Unwelcome teasing will cause people to think of you as rude, and might even cause you to be seen cruel, overbearing or intimidating – in short, a bully.
It is also a good idea to try not to come across as judgmental. Judgment is problematic; you are entitled to your opinion and others are entitled to disagree – it is possible for both sides to be right.
Remember, if you are going to tease someone, be respectful and focus on something within his/her control.