Friday, July 23, 2004

I often take reassurance when a new social group make small (harmless) jokes at my expense, as people only ever do it when they like you: when was the last time you mocked somebody you despised?  However, this good nature is occasionally and unfortunately abused: in fact, many of my friends think I stand for too much.  The stick often builds because, so I'm regularly told, I'm easy to wind up.  However the unusual truth is that invariably when I hear that I'm not wound up at all, and the nonsense simply drifts over me.  Of course, on those occasions when I have had enough, hearing that I'm easy to wind up dozen't help factors, to say the least.

What rushes through my mind at such moments is why on earth anybody would actually want to wind up anybody else, let alone a friend.  The feelings I encounter at such times always remind me of the unhappiest years of my life, when I was bullied for the first two years of secondary school.  And consistently I conclude that such behavior - the callous baiting (which, astoundingly, sometimes continues even with the knowledge that I think it's beyond a joke) and abuse of my good nature - is only quantatively, and not qualitatively, different to that of those bullies.  That is to say that although the scale of the behavior - words rather than fists - is different, the underlying attitude is the same: a motivation to joke and abuse for one's own pleasure but at another's expense.

Yet it is so common.  The regularity with which I meet such behavior in adult life suggests to me that in given circumstances many of us could abuse others; more specifically, many of my - and your - current friends, if placed into the disinterested, disfunctional class I was part of for the first two years of my secondary education would have joined with the bullies.  Indeed, everybody in that class did indeed do so at some point, and no schoolboy is unlucky enough to share a classroom with 25 proactive trouble makers.  Like all anti-social behavior, a few ringleaders lead and cajole the rest; what surprises is how easily and quickly each of us would follow their rude lead.  Indeed, the famous Stanford Prisoner Experiment of the 60s is a cold illustration of this awful reality.

Those friends and family I have most respect for are those that know what I shouldn't have to tell anybody: when to stop.  The unfortunate reality of our complex nature is that most people need the occasional reminder of where that line lies.  And so here I'd like to make a plea from the good-natured amongst us: next time the roller-coaster of peer banter runs too far too fast, stop and think, and ask yourself whether what you're about to say is decent and respectful.

Comments: Post a Comment