One of my favorite inspirational authors and speakers, Gordon McKenzie, had unique insight into teasing. As do I.
First, Gordon's story, from his book Orbiting the Giant Hairball, which I strongly recommend you buy, then read, then read again.
One day, while running a "mandatory fun" kind of workshop, he invited the group of non-artists to "make marks on paper." (Notice he didn't request a drawing? The word "drawing" brings expectations with it.) Then he asked if anyone wanted to share what he or she put on the paper. Finally, one woman agreed.
"Without a word, the woman popped out of her chair and, with a bashful eagerness, walked directly to the flip chart at the front of the room. There, on the large newsprint pad, she began cheerfully tracing out what I presumed to be an enlargement of her original drawing. She had not drawn more than three or four lines before one of her co-workers began to tease her about the level of her drawing skill. Others quickly added to the barbs. A rowdy taunting ensued. There was a stunning shift in the woman's energy from one of delighted sharing to a shame-faced defensiveness. After an apologetic explanation of her drawing, she scurried, eyes down, back to her seat."
"I felt heartsick."
Gordon goes on to explain that he was once an alcoholic, and during his rehabilitation process he learned about the role shaming plays in addictive behavior.
"Teasing is a disguised form of shaming," one man said in a group setting.
"Bull's eye! One of the long-locked doors in my mind burst open.
"For as far back as I could remember, I had always been a frenzied teaser but had never looked at why. Now I knew. I teased to control. Why would I want to control? Because I am afraid. For whatever reason, I have had a long-standing fear of others. One way of dealing with this far was to learn the skill of teasing. I learned it well, eventually walling myself off with a bristling armor of barbed banter designed to blunt the power of those countless people I felt threatened by. My teasing became a weapon intended to push others off balance and thus reduce the sense of menace in my life."
Now, my story. Having been teased mercilessly as a kid, I understand his motives to want to get back at those people who seemingly have the power to hurt me. (Pertinent background info: I moved 27 times in my life—no joke. Partially because I was always the new kid, and partially because I hit my growth spurt early and was usually the tallest kid in school up until 7th grade or so, I was completely socially inept. I had absolutely no social skills of any kind. I was the nerd that the nerds picked on.) I understand people tease for many reasons, some of which seem benign. Some people even tease to show affection.
At the talk I gave this past Saturday called "Lessons I've Learned," someone pointed out that maybe the people who are teased should just grow thicker skin. Good point.
But, which would you rather go through? Having to be teased and getting thicker skin, or having people be more aware of their motivation for teasing and have a more pleasant environment.
Why do you tease? I'm sure it's not for the same reason each time. Stop and question yourself the next time you start teasing someone. Ask if yourself if you're really just shaming with a veneer of a joke. Does the other person feel better after you've teased him or her?
My advice to you is this: If your teasing doesn't make the other person feel better, STOP. Find another way.
Thanks for reading,
Good juju-spreader, speaker, graphic designer. I'd love to hear from you!