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When Humor Hurts
by Donna Doyon
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"I was only joking," I told my 11-year old son.

"It wasn't funny," he said. His blue eyes looked moist. "You hurt my feelings."

And then I remembered all the times people have hurt my feelings, claimed they were joking, and told me not to take things so personally. Some of these teasing comments were made during my childhood, yet the hurt still lingers to this day.

For instance, my father always picked on me for my lack of cooking abilities. I never cared to learn to cook as a child. I knew how to make peanut butter sandwiches, toast, and plain spaghetti (I don't like sauce). My sister was the one who enjoyed helping my mother in the kitchen. Or at least I assumed she enjoyed it. She helped, I didn't have to, and it worked for me. But when I did cook something for myself, my father would make comments.

"Well, look at that," he'd say. "You didn't burn the water for the spaghetti today," "You better find a husband that can cook or he'll starve to death," or "Are you sure that's safe to eat?"

He was only joking, of course. The ironic thing is that my father has never eaten anything I've cooked. The one time I prepared a meal for my parents, he chose not to eat it. That hurt too.

Yet every time I cook a meal, his words haunt me. I don't invite people over for dinner because I worry that they will leave hungry and laughing at me. The one or two times a year that we do have guests, I start each meal with an apology.

I should know better! I claim to be enlightened in the field of self-development, acceptance and respect. I help others recognize and appreciate their unique talents. I help others get past the hurtful comments that keep them from moving forward in their lives. Yet, here I am, unable to get past the hurtful words my father spewed at me. Because he was only joking.

We have all experienced teasing in our lives. Most days it is fun and puts a smile on our faces. But sometimes, the teasing goes too far. Sometimes the jokes get tiresome because we've heard them too many times. Sometimes they begin to hurt.

A few days ago I said something hurtful to my son. I didn't mean it. I really didn't. In fact the incident is one of those precious stories that a mother replays in her head over and over again. It would have been a story recounted to his future wife, or his children. But now it is one that will remain locked in my heart and memory because to share it again will certainly cause him pain.

I tell myself that I should have recognized the warning signs that I'd gone too far. Looking back, they were visible on his face and in his body language. They were signs we've all seen, and too often choose to ignore.

For instance, when I was laughing, he gave a phony smile and laugh. When I added more comments, he just stared at me. When I asked for his agreement, he dropped his eyes. When I said, "I was only joking," he let his shoulders slump, turned his back on me and said, "It wasn't funny." When I reached for him, to give him a hug, he stood stiffly in my arms and said, "You hurt my feelings."

How many times do we say things to be funny and instead end up hurting someone's feelings? Wouldn't the person tell us? How do we know? Should we stop laughing with each other when funny things happen in life?

Each situation is unique. But consider whether there is a pattern to the jokes? Do you say the same things over and over? Do the same "funny" things happen to the same person? Could the person become paranoid or self-conscious about it? These are the situations that have the greater chance of hurting someone's feelings. These are the comments that may impact the person for a long time.

Whenever I cook, I hear my father's comments. What comments do you hear that were said in jest? How do they impact you? Have you been able to get past them? Now consider the things you've said to your children, your spouse, your friends or co-workers. Have you made a lasting impression on them that may keep them from pursuing their dreams or fulfilling their potential? Have you teased them about their greatest talents and undermined their confidence by doing so? Have you teased them about their greatest fears making it even harder for them to overcome them?

Laughter can brighten our day and lift our spirits. But the next time we are laughing with friends, we should look around and make sure that everyone is enjoying the joke. It has been said that laughter is the best medicine, but words said in jest might be as dangerous as an incorrectly filled prescription.

Written by: Donna Doyon
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