I totally get that a lot of guys express their love of one another through teasing, and I really don’t mind it. Actually, I kind of enjoy it. I even participate in this jacked up ritual. In the past couple weeks, I have expressed my affection for my friends Scott and Tim by questioning their manhood. This is pretty much my go-to expression of affection for the guys in my life: “And you call yourself a man,” or some variant said in sarcastic tones.
The question, though, is when is it too much? Is teasing at all too much? I try to balance my teases with genuineness. I tell people how I actually feel.
Once upon a time, I was around a group of people who singled out a particular person and teased him all the time about all kinds of stuff. He was obviously respected at some level since he was empowered with leadership duties for some things. He was invited first to gatherings, and yet he was the subject of any number of jokes. It was uncomfortable (and unsurprisingly not funny). It forced me, for the first time in my life, to question if this was okay. I had to ask why I was feeling uncomfortable and in answering that question, I had to evaluate my role and also my behavior with others. Do I do the same thing? Do I belabor these jokes? Should I be joking?
I still tease, but I try to make sure that I’m doing it in a way that is obviously transparent. I’m sure I fail. I’m sure. Is it worth the risk? I don’t know. I definitely feel like some bonds have grown stronger through this strange male friendship ritual, and I am definitely more than open to taking my knocks as well. But have I offended people? Lately, I don’t think I have, but I’m sure I have at times. I’m not against this male-bonding ritual, but I’m trying to be an exceedingly cautious participant in it.
I remember a particular situation where I was playing music with a band as a fill-in person and another member of the band was so mean and condescending to the sound person that it made me want to throw up. There was teasing, and not the male-bonding kind. The person running sound was doing their best, but they were inexperienced and easily distracted. This dude I was playing with was way out of line, but so biting in his commentary that I think everyone (myself included) was afraid to do anything about it. This teasing originated from the prideful idea that he was better than the guy running sound. He legitimately knew more, but he felt his knowledge empowered him to belittle the sound guy.
I’m still surprised and ashamed that I played that show.
Teasing used to truly belittle or originating in the thoughts of superiority or pride are never good. Teasing that aims to elevate yourself by pushing others down is awful, detestable. And yet, everyone reading this has done it and probably will do it. And the line between bonding and belittling is thin. The first story above illustrates this. The teasers liked the teasee and even praised him, but still the volume of jokes and number of jokers was overwhelming the sense of bonding, at least from my perspective. Because that line is so perilously thin and the ground around it is slippery, use caution. For real.