Tom Scotus

Can You Take A Joke?

Mother and Child

We all loved Mr. Kornchinsky. He was my Grade 6 teacher and he could “take a joke.” I was the smart aleck in his class and I teased him a lot. Nevertheless, he liked me. He never seemed to get angry about how he was treated. He didn’t mind light-hearted teasing in his class, but he would punish any kid who really hurt someone else.

Not many of us are as mature and as well adjusted as Mr. Kornchinsky. Many of us aren’t very good sports when we are teased, even in a good-spirited way. I believe it has to do with how we were treated as children. If we grew up in an atmosphere of unconditional love and acceptance, we probably have very solid self-images. If, on the other hand, one or both of our parents continually humiliated us or made us feel worthless, then we probably have very fragile egos. Most of us have a sense of self worth which is somewhere in between.

Mr. Kornchinsky was one of those rare individuals who genuinely liked almost everybody. When he did poke fun at others, it was usually to build them up, never to tear them down. Most of us are not like that. Most of the time, when we tease, we are putting the other person down. Now, this is usually done in a light-hearted way, but it’s still insulting. Well-adjusted people can take a good dose of this treatment, but not every one is well adjusted.

I heard someone once say, “If you can’t take a joke, then you are a joke.” I understand what he meant by that, but he probably doesn’t realize just how difficult it is to change your psychological make up. It can be done, but it’s very difficult. And the truth of the matter is that there is a very fine line between innocent teasing and malicious insults. Whether or not someone is “just kidding” is not always obvious to the person who is the target.

I think that in all our interactions with other people we have to follow two guiding principles: 1) We must treat others in the way that we want to be treated; 2) We must be aware of our own sinful conditions. If we can see that our words are hurting someone we should stop. It’s as simple as that. Whether or not they should be able to “take a joke” isn’t the point. Maybe they are being overly sensitive. In that case, we should be more sensitive in the way we treat them.

If we are the type of people who like to “kid around” a lot, we should ask ourselves why. Maybe we just like to have innocent, good-natured fun. However, often we tease others as an outlet for sadistic tendencies, or to build ourselves up at their expense, or to get attention, or to get revenge for how we have been treated.

It would be a boring world if we could never get beyond “the polite stage” with others. (Still, we should always be kind.) Among well adjusted, well meaning people, a little bit of good-natured teasing is fun. But we have to be careful. Not everyone is well adjusted and they need love and affirmation even more than well-adjusted people do. As Christians, let’s be the ones to be extra sensitive to those who are extra sensitive.