If you have ever been crushed by hurtful words from someone you trusted and have then been told, “I was just kidding,” you are likely the victim of bullying and passive aggressive cruelty. Sometimes a statement meant to tear down your self-esteem is lobbed in privacy by a relative or a person you believed to be your friend. Often, the harmful words are flung in your direction in a public place, leaving you the brunt of a so-called joke, with your face burning and your confidence shattered, while others in the group share a laugh at your expense.
Make no mistake. The laughter is just as hurtful as the words. It comes from a group of people who probably never found the cruel remark funny, but felt obligated to laugh because the speaker is often seen as the leader of the pack, the life of the party, the one you need to please, regardless of who is hurt.
The insidious nature of this kind of bullying makes it easy for the bully to turn the tables even further by accusing you of not being a good sport because you are not joining in the laughter. Now, you are wearing whatever insulting label the bully placed on you, and the additional one of being a person who is not fun to be around.
This passive aggressive form of cruelty is not limited to children in the playground. It can and does extend into adulthood, and it does not exclude the people we should protect and cherish—the aging who have raised a family, used their talents in their church and community, and continue to be productive within the parameters of their new limitations.
Nor does the perpetrator of this I-was-just-teasing form of verbal abuse take into count—or care—what is currently happening in the victim’s life. The target of the insult masquerading as a joke could be suffering because a loved one received a horrible diagnosis of physical or mental illness. The victim could be worried about stretching a too-small salary over a growing mountain of debt, burdened with the isolation that comes from living alone, devastated over the death of family or friends. The list is endless. The bully does not care.
He craves the limelight, the quick laughter that translates into his mind as approval, the power of reducing the current victim to a puddle of insecurities. And often tears.
Why does this happen? Frequently, jealousy is the motive. The bully feels threatened by his target for any number of reasons, both real and imagined—social status, looks, wealth, talent. The bigger the target, the more satisfaction in reducing them to the brunt of a joke. Tearing them down, especially in public, makes the bully the center of attention, the one who knows how to laugh and have a good time, the leader, the one who shows others who is worthy and who is not.
This is a hard post to write. I am the victim of the I-was-just-teasing bully. And not in the past, either. Recently, and in spite of my gray hair and the many ways I share my faith and the gifts God gave me with my community and my church. I teach the adorable 2-year-old angels, sing in Sunday morning choir, play piano for Sunday night services, work with the ministries in the women’s group, and try very hard to be compassionate, kind, and fair in my interactions with the people I see day-to-day.
Am I always successful? No. I am human. Sometimes my feelings and my too-crowded schedule dictate my actions. I’m too hurried to lift someone else up or too harried to be part of a church fund-raiser. But I am never, ever deliberately cruel. From the time I was a small child, my wonderful Daddy taught me to always be kind. That was the mantra I heard from him throughout the short fifty-seven years he lived on this earth. It’s my mantra, too, the one I taught to my children, and to my students at Mississippi State University during my brief stint there.
Kindness is one of the ways you can tell if a person is a follower of Christ.
But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galations 5: 22-23