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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Before You Laugh, T.H.I.N.K. - Guest Post

Tracey, who blogs over at Inside the Mommyvan, really brings up some good points about pictures and pages we usually don't think twice about laughing at.


I've noticed lately certain things that once seemed like a great idea now make me squirm inside my own skin... and no, I don't mean unearthing photos of that ill-advised spiral perm I got in 1983. I'm talking about some of the humor out there that, for me, crosses a line. Not racist, or sexist, or any of the many other -ist lines whose specific boundazries are argued daily both on- and off-line. No, this is subtler still, and yet something that affects us all. So, here goes...

People of Walmart.

"A photo collection of people that grace us with their presence at Walmart." Hope you never have a bad hair day, or a child care or health or wardrobe emergency, or, God forbid, a mental illness or disability, and then need to run an errand. You might just find yourself on the wrong end of a camera lens at Wal-Mart.

 Rich Kids of Instagram.

"They have more money than you and this is what they do." You probably have more money than lots of other people. Do you have a nicer car? A bigger TV? Better clothes? Take a vacation now and then? Or do you, unlike these foolish children, spend money _only_ on the necessities of life?

 Awkward Family Photos. "Awkward Family Photos reminds anyone with a dusty shoebox full of snapshots of unfortunate fashion choices, band trips, braces, bad bridesmaids’ dresses and that one time you got talked into dressing up and going to the Renaissance Faire, that you are not alone. This isn’t just a book, it’s a public service on the page, a living, breathing, laugh-out-loud reminder that no matter how badly you dressed, how oddly you posed, and how weird Uncle Dave who lived in the basement was, somebody out there had it worse." (from the book description)

Public service? I don't buy it. Admit it, it's an excuse to laugh at people funnier-looking than you are, people who made the mistake of capturing what was to them a treasured memory, on film. I've focused on these websites because they're ones I see often, floating around Facebook and the like, but there are plenty of off-line examplesas well:
  • That lady (really shouldn't be) wearing a bikini top / thise shorts / that dress in public.
  • Can you believe those people dragging their grubby kids around the store at 11pm?
  • Look at that jerk with the fancy car, he must be compensating for something (wink, wink).
  • Who would ever think that pose / belly cast / framed placenta would make a nice pregnancy keepsake?
It is a fine line, though, isn't it? Let's try a few more.
  • Look at that girl, her clothes don't even match. Doesn't she own a mirror?
  • Hey, lady, get that whiny rugrat out of the coffeeshop (all he did was ask for a chocolate milk).
  • Ooooh, pink hair, bet you think you're sooo unique.
  • What a dork, he can't even catch a football.
  • Did she really think she had a shot at cheerleading (with those thunder thighs or she's flat as a board)?
Can you see where this is going? I hope so, because I'm not going to spell out the next step. Don't get me wrong, I love to laugh as much as the next person, and some of these are funny. Some of them are also offensive hurtful, and unkind. This is where the line comes in. Once we get past the blatantly insulting, what we say isn't what crosses the line. It's not even who we say it to or where. It's how, and more importantly, why that pushes it over from good fun into... something else.

The line is in my heart.

Am I laughing at someone who has offered up their own awkwardness or misfortune as humor (as with at least some of the Awkward Family Photos, the best comedians, and good ol' America's Funniest Videos), or at someone held up by a third party as laughable? Am I laughing out of sympathy and camaraderie, or out of malice, jealousy, arrogance, or spite?

The line is in my heart.

We all think things from time to time that are better left unspoken. Bullying is a terrible problem among teens and even young children. Even adults can be terribly cruel to each other, perhaps without even being aware of it.

At the same time, I don't want us to turn into a society of humorless drones, never poking friendly fun lest we bruise someone's ego. I think most people can figure out, in their own heart, which side of the line their words are coming from. The line is in your heart, too. If you find yourself about to say something like, "Lighten up!" or "Can't you take a joke?" you probably crossed the line. The right move here is to apologize. Immediately. No ifs, ands, or buts (especially not buts). Think back to what you said, and why, and make a mental note: That was Not OK. If it's a one-off thing, maybe it was a misunderstanding or someone especially sensitive. If you start to see a pattern, take another look at the line, the one in your heart, and give it a nudge toward the kinder, gentler side. Isn't this what we want to teach our kids? Regardless of how you tell them to treat others, they will follow the behavior your model for them. If you tease, pick on, or bully, they will too.

So, before you speak, THINK: T - Is it true? H - Is it helpful? I - Is it inspiring? N - Is it necessary? K - Is it kind?



  1. I love you just for writing this. Just exactly this. The difference between "Wow, I had no idea they made those in animal print," and "Wow, what a loser." In which case, poking fun at the rich kids or the guy with the convertible gets a little bit more of a pass from me. Because their suffering isn't obviously ground into the lines of their face and we're making it worse.

    1. Thanks!

      As for the rich kids, we don't know each others' suffering. Many of them are growing up with presents instead of presence from their parents, and may well be hurting because the only photos they have to post are of their things instead of their family. Or not, and they're enjoying what they are fortunate enough to have. Still not a reason to be mean to them, IMO.



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