On Flippant Jests

We all jest. We all make flippant comments. Well, most of us do, anyway. Some folks have matured to the point that they realize some humor is worth going unsaid, and they see no need to make a joke or comment at another’s expense.

I am not one of these folks. In fact, I can remember occasions specifically wherein my flippant attempt at laughter met with another persons’ hurt; and despite the laugh that was earned, the shame I felt after the fact was not worth the cost of hurting a fellow human being.

And, frankly, the strange thing is that up until recently, I would have seen nothing wrong with the jesting of another in and of itself. In fact, I might have encouraged it. I happen to take myself far too seriously, and a good ribbing is useful for me to be a bit less severe in regard to my pride and self importance.

However, I have discovered of late a very strange phenomenon–that inasmuch as the singular jab or jibe is easily excusable and forgotten, the constant assault of such barbs adds up quickly; and in doing so, pierces the heart in a very different type of way. While one layered back-handed compliment can hit a person quickly and specifically, a series of flippant and vapid remarks piled upon one another from multiple parties create a festering and lingering wound that one cannot easily place.

You ask yourself “Why do I feel so poorly about my weight today?”, and while you cannot pinpoint one hurtful world, you can remember that persons A, B, D, and H all said something over the last week. You cannot even remember the words they said, but you can remember–very vividly–your feeling at the time the comment passed their lips, and while no singular event made an impact in and of itself, the series of them compounded into a feeling that (a) none of the speakers intended and (b) is likely an inaccurate reflection of reality.

I bring this up not because I have recently been victim of such an inadvertant assault (though I might have been were I not self-aware and proactive about processing these things) but more so because I know, in my heart, that I have not only been the cause of such hurt feelings but also that I am of the personality type that I could continue to be that jesting person in the future if I fail to keep myself in check. These days, I tend to run a split-second cost/benefit analysis before each joke I make. I ask, “Is the laugh that will be wrought by this action or phrase worth any cost to its hearers in terms of truth, goodness, beauty, and virtue?” If the answer is no, I tend to refrain; and despite the amount of jokes I toss into the wind, I self-censor quite a bit. If the answer is yes, the jest will not have a detrimental effect, I run with it, say my piece, and laugh afterward.

But I find I can easily misread the count in my cost column, not knowing that a listener will be affected more deeply than I had thought. And while my comment may not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, it can be that third or fourth bushel full that makes the next step that much harder for the person to take.

I am trying to be more mindful of this, and I will need to do so as I continue living. Part of the gig of loving folk, you know–valuing their esteem more than my own cleverness (and anyone who knows me knows I greatly overvalue my own cleverness). How bout you?

Thanks for reading,