The Line between Harmless Fun and Bullying

Everyone knows a bully. Unfortunately for most people, there have been a few times when the bully was staring back at you in the mirror. Bullies push their way into conversations, the limelight, and checkout lines. It is a different type of bully that uses a public forum to perform acts of self-gratifying humor at the expense of someone else. The line between harmless fun and bullying is not hard to see if you look for it.

Harmless fun allows everyone to enjoy the joke or act.

Going to a children’s party and seeing happy young faces playing games is harmless fun. They may put tails on donkeys or bob for apples. At adult parties, the games may change to cards, dominoes, or some other type of amusement. The result is still the same. Everyone who chooses to can participate and have fun.

With harmless fun, no one leaves embarrassed with hurt feelings.

People may do foolish things in the name of having fun. However, as long as it is their choice to act like a fool, no one minds the fun. Some may even increase the foolishness to maximize the laughter. When it is by design and choice, it is almost always harmless fun.

Bullying begins when someone is singled out to be embarrassed without their consent.

When a person is selected to be the butt of a joke without prior knowledge, the bullying has started. This is intended to go beyond just a mild practical joke. The idea is to humiliate and embarrass. The level of embarrassment is dependent upon the personality of the individual. Everyone understands that there are some people who just love to be the center of attention regardless of the circumstance. If the joke is played on that person, there may be no foul.

A bully is not content just to get the laugh.

Bullies want a different type of attention. They want to be the one who appears better, bigger, or stronger than someone else. Their fun comes from getting the laugh as someone else is put down. Bullying always requires that someone is made to seem smaller so the bully can appear larger. Even when bullies inflict physical pain, it is the mental pain that they are really intending to cause. Both at the time of the incident and for as long as possible afterward.

A group can become a bully, too.

While bullies are usually one individual who tries to dominate others, there are times when a group will formulate a plan to humiliate someone just as easily. It can be sending someone on a useless errand or delivering a message that is a demeaning statement about themselves to another person without their knowledge of the contents of the message. It can take many forms. When it is highly unlikely that the victim will appreciate the humor, it passes from harmless fun to bullying.