Putting Down The Put-Down

Remember in the movie Nutty Professor when comedian Chris Rock goes on a mocking tirade against the unwitting professor at a night club? For the majority of the club patrons, this roasting was hilarious. For the professor and his date, it was nothing short of cruelty.

This kind of cruelty is not exclusive to adults. In the sometimes cut-throat world of children, teasing and trickery can leave lasting emotional wounds.

I am determined to raise kind, peaceful children who would never take pleasure in hurting another child--even through joking.

My kids love to hear a good joke and repeat a good joke. But they also need to be taught how to discern appropriate humor.

"But Mommy, it's funny!" James protested to me today while we were discussing joking.

"It's funny for you," I said, "but how do you think your sister feels when you trick her into saying something stupid?"

"But other kids do the same thing to me!" he said.

"And how did it feel to you?" I asked.


"Exactly," I replied. "This is why in our family we don't allow jokes that trick or make fun of someone."

This, of course, brought out a myriad of questions regarding how to tell whether or not a joke is truly funny or just plain wrong. I tried to answer each of their questions and give examples of unkind jokes. They understood and were fairly sobered.

While I was explaining this, I began to realize that this issue is personal for me. I was teased constantly as a child and for things I could not change. I was teased for being "too smart," for being a "good girl," for not being athletic, for being white.

As a young child I learned that unkind words carry the same violence as a physical punch.

I know people who, even as adults, are characterized by their unnerving ability to put someone down in a humorous manner. Movies, commercials, entire sitcoms revolve around "The Ultimate Zinger," the perfectly executed put-down, the sarcastic remark.

And I confess, there are times when I find a put-down comical. When "the little guy" is able to defeat "the big guy"---to me, this is funny. Political cartoons that satirize individuals in powerful positions are often truly humorous. I  get a kick out of such shows as Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, I am intrigued by investigative journalism that exposes abuse of power, and I enjoy a humorous portrayal of (of which Shakespeare was the master) of our weaknesses/faults as human beings.

It's quite a different thing altogether when a Big Guy picks on a Little Guy or when someone goes trolling for laughs by humiliating a fellow peer. To me, this is bullying and it is just the sort of cruelty I want my children to avoid.

Is it so difficult for us to be amused without it costing someone else?