That's No Joke

Mean comments aren't harmless, even if followed with, "It's just a joke!"
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Q. The other day, one of my friends said it'd be funny if I died and then excused it by saying she was kidding. That's not funny. What do I do?

A. Ephesians 4:29 says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (NIV). Cruelty, mockery and getting laughs at someones' expense is not "helpful for building others up." Some jokesters assume jokes are harmless. But putdowns—as jokes or not—show a real lack of sensitivity and respect. That's not harmless.

When I was in fourth grade, some of the popular kids made fun of a certain boy they called, "Albert Fruitfly." Wanting to be popular and cool more than anything else,

I joined in on the name-calling.

Several years later, a youth worker came up to me. He introduced himself as the person I'd called Albert Fruitfly. He told me that after high school, he left the area because he needed a new identity. In college, he didn't have anyone calling him Fruitfly and he met caring people who showed him the love of Christ. I was humbled and apologized for my actions. He forgave me. Today he is my friend and brother in Christ. I learned my lesson: Joking or not, putdowns hurt.

When being put down, I find it's best to not laugh along, but just ignore the comment. If people are mean to you and you respond, they're encouraged to keep doing it. If they get no response, they will often stop. If not, talk to an adult.

When putdowns and hurtful jokes come from friends, you should talk it out. I suggest waiting until a time when you're: 1) alone and 2) they haven't recently put you down. Tell them how you feel when they put you down. The emphasis is on being honest about your feelings. They will probably respond by saying something like, "I was just kidding." Very sincerely just say, "It still hurt. It doesn't matter if it was a joke or not."

Jim is an author, longtime youth worker and founder of HomeWord, a group seeking to honor God through strong families.

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