Harmless Fun and Bullying

I know the man that runs our local bookstore, he’s a nice enough man, but he once, after having known me for about four years, forgot my name. Will I let him live it down? Like hell I will. Every time I go in there now I make a joke about him forgetting things because he’s old.

I know what you’re thinking, 57 is not old, and you’re right, it isn’t. I know that and he knows that I don’t think he is old, he knows I am joking. If he didn’t, I would have been thrown out by now!

I also make the occasional bald joke in his direction too, but again, he knew I was kidding. Don’t be fooled, this wasn’t a one way street, he gave as good as he got, he would throw short jokes, stupid jokes and girl jokes at me. Fair enough right? I deserved them! Harmless fun, right?

But to the impartial observer, this “friendly” banter could have been interpreted as bullying.

The two main differences between harmless fun and bullying are intention and interpretation.

If the person’s intention is to make someone feel bad or ashamed of something, this is very clearly bullying.

I was bullied in school, and without whining on about it too much, it hurt, I knew they were saying these things to hurt me and make me feel bad about myself.

But if the person’s intention is to make a joke without deliberately hurting someone’s feelings, then this is what you could call harmless fun.

But how can you tell what someone’s intentions really are?

But the more complex of the two issues is interpretation, you can never tell if someone will know that you are kidding or not. You never know what kind of a sense of humour that they have. You have to tread carefully, there are some people that can take a joke, but when you have to be careful that you don’t cross the line. There are also people that are highly sensitive and will become offended very easily. These are the people that you have to watch out for. I think if you are in any doubt about the way they will handle your comment, then I would advise against making it.

I can understand that completely; think about the last time someone insulted you and then said, “oh I’m only kidding” Did you believe them?

If the man from the Bookstore had thought I was a bully, would that have made me one? If he told someone else that I had called him old, bald and forgetful, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. If I said, “I was only kidding” I would look like a coward that couldn’t own up to what she had said.

If you hurt someone, or offend them, even unintentionally then they will think that you are a bully.

There is a thin line between harmless fun and bullying and that line is drawn by the other person.