Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Laugh With Me! Part 2

In Part One I talked about teasing people and how it can so often be abused to hurt people or used to cover up an underlying malice or jealousy the person is unwilling to deal with in a more honest way. However, I don't want you to think that teasing is inherently malicious.

For many people I know, teasing, or back and forth teasing (which we could call banter) is a very real expression of affection. Joking, practical or otherwise, can be done in a spirit of mutual fun which makes it a good time for everyone. For instance, when I tease my sister about her college degree and how she must be looking down on all of her brothers now because she is the only one of us with a degree, I am not for a moment suggesting that she actually is looking down on us. I know that, she knows that. What I am doing, however, is pointing out in a comical, indirect way, that she has accomplished something none of the rest of us have accomplished.

I can remind my brother of the time we did such and such and he face planted on the tile floor from the top bunk and broke his tooth. Or make fun of the overbite he used to have. It made him substitute the "f" sound for the "ch" sound. Great Grandma used to make him say the "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck" rhyme when he was little and thought it was hillarious. I can laugh at him for turning north out of the driveway instead of south because he was too busy dancing in the front seat of the car to pay attention. He can make fun of me for going off trail on a hike and taking a harder way down than he did. We can laugh at each other almost constantly, but there is nothing malicious about it at all.

Teasing someone can be done in a loving fashion. Some might say, "Well, why an indirect compliment? Why not just say it straight out?" Well, there are a lot of psychological reasons for that. Without going too deeply into the existential roots of this dilemma, love is a very shy thing, even among old, old friends. When you compliment someone you make yourself vulnerable, and when you accept a compliment you acknowledge vulnerability. Phrasing a compliment in a roundabout way provides it just a little bit of privacy. There is an inherent modesty in teasing someone lovingly, a modesty that allows you to see, admire and love, without being completely emotionally exposed. Human beings cannot stand to be emotionally naked very often. This is why we wear clothes in the first place. Banter and teasing, or flirtation as a friend of mine calls it (she uses the term regardless of the nature of the relationship, my definition is much narrower) allows us to be affectionate without being promiscuous.

There is also a certain mystery about a roundabout compliment, something that requires a little bit of work, a second thought, to understand. It isn't simply handed baldly from one person to the other, but exists in the interchange between them. This makes it a relational thing, since both have to cooperate in making it what it is.

But I think by far the most common reason for teasing people (for me at least) is simply to make them laugh.

People are such odd creatures. Every single one of them is unique, absolutely singular among all the people that have ever existed. We are have quirks and foibles and flaws, we make mistakes and we do silly things. Some of these things are very serious and hurt other people. Some merely hurt ourselves. Some don't really do much harm, but definitely make us look like idiots. The only proper response to a silly mistake that makes you look like an idiot is a laugh. I delight in people. I delight in their uniqueness, their incomprehensibility, the ability they have to surprise the heck out of you even after you've known them for years. I love the unpredictability of people, and the predictability of people. I laugh out of sheer delight that God should create such wonderfully clumsy creatures. I laugh at the divine foolishness of creating little sparks of spiritual light to shine through blobs of clay. I mourn the ugliness and hatefulness of ignorance and sin, but I also laugh at its idiocy, its banality. It is so pathetic, so useless, so obstinate and childish. I know that Christ has conquered sin, transcended death and redeemed even me! Why should I not laugh? Life is beautiful!

I laugh in the darkness and hardship of deployments or military training because I have hope. I laugh despite even my sins because I have hope. I laugh at my own sins (eventually) because they are opportunities for grace. There is some need in all of us for the laugh of the "cheerful beggar," who knows that he is unworthy and only laughs at it because it highlights God's generosity all the more.
I want people to laugh with me. When I poke fun at someone I am not condemning one of the traits that I despise, I am rejoicing in one of the quirks that makes them unique and inviting them to join in that rejoicing. I want you to join me in laughing at yourself, and I want to join you in laughing at me.

That kind of laughter can heal the world.


  1. My brother and I had a dance kind of like this. I discovered that boys act like they don't like affection, so I pretty much told him exactly what I thought of him. I told him I loved him, I thought he was adorable and a wonderful guy. And I'd give him a hug or kiss that he would rebuff and pretend he didn't totally enjoy. My goodness how I miss that kid.

  2. You big loaf! You made me laugh and cry at the same time.

  3. "When you compliment someone you make yourself vulnerable, and when you accept a compliment you acknowledge vulnerability" for thought. Great post =)