Thursday, November 20, 2008

Is it Funny?

In C.S. Lewis' classic text, The Screwtape Letters, one elder demon writes to a younger demon about humans:
Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is "mean"; if he boasts of it in a jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer "mean" but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humorous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful—unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke.*
A few years ago, one of my priests, then a new layperson at my parish, gently admonished me. He suggested that the way my friends and I teased one another sometimes went over the line, and that we might be negatively impacting the younger kids. I thought, to be honest, that maybe he just didn't understand the nature of our friendship.

A few years older, I now see the wisdom of his words. To be sure, some joking around helps build genuine friendship. But sometimes our jokes mask other things, like jealously or an unconscious desire to hurt someone.

Even if my motives are "pure", still, am I sure it's "just a joke"? Maybe I should second guess whether the person I'm teasing is really o.k. with it. Am I sure the person is comfortable with my jokes about his height, weight, imperfections, decisions or disabilities?

This is not an invitation to be "uptight", but to look more closely before we strike. Has the target of my teasing given me any hints that this subject is o.k. to joke about? Even more, is he giving me the vibe that it's not o.k.? Would it surprise me to know that, when she's alone, she cries about this very thing, maybe even replaying the jokes in her head? Am I isolating her? How does it fit into my goal of seeking God's kingdom on earth?

*The Screwtape Letters, XI


Harvey said...

Beautifully said. C.S. Lewis is the man...

Stay strong. Fight the good fight.

HL7 said...

That clown scares me.