Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Another Thing I Don't Get: Teasing

Here's a sweeping statement: Teasing is a form of aggression, contextual permission to be nasty and hurtful, where the subject of the teasing is a "bad sport" if he or she puts up a fuss in response. We abhor teasing in children, where its subtexts are unsophisticated and apparent. Why do we tolerate it in grownups?

I know there are counterexamples galore. I also know there are social groups where teasing is an accepted conversational currency (although in truth I do not believe that in those groups it is as univerally accepted among its usual victims as its usual practitioners convince themselves). Certainly there are times when the subtext of teasing is indeed and apparently affection. And most certainly there are some semantic issues here, where behavior called "teasing" does not involve being nasty (with an "only teasing" tone, as if adding the "only" makes it ok). Still, on the whole, I neither enjoy it nor understand the appeal.

Let's narrow down the core of what I'm talking about (although my issues extend beyond this): Comments that without the excuse of "only teasing" would be horrible things to say. I see this more than I wish I did.

I used to have a co-worker who was absolutely the nicest most generous most empathetic guy you'd want to have around, the sort of guy who people went to when they were stressed or troubled. He was quite genial in temperament, but one of the characteristic ways he expressed his conviviality was with teasing comments. For example, at a group lunch once we were a couple of dollars short and when I looked again at the bill I was mortified to realize that I had forgotten to include my drink in the contribution, which I immediately apologized for and then paid. This guy did his usual teasing "That's right, you *forgot* (wink wink). Yeah, we know, you were just trying to get away with not paying your share." Ok, is that really funny to anybody? Is it meant to be funny to me? One comment along these lines would have been annoying but ignorable, but he went on for a while and I had to tell him pretty firmly to can it (because I'm such a bad sport). I mean, if you're going to tease me, at least tease me about something that characterizes my behavior rather than something that does not.

This particular co-worker got himself in a bit of trouble once at a group meeting by going a little far in "good-natured" teasing of another co-worker about something the co-worker was more sensitive about than the teaser realized, with the results you might expect from such a situation.

I don't mean to be going on about this one individual, who, as I say, really is kind and is unquestionably of friendly intention. My point here is that I just can't imagine a mindset that thinks this sort of thing is funny or affectionate or convivial.

Why do people do this? Why do people say things that would be horrific and appalling if you took the words just as they are minus the teasing tone or context? The words stay out there, with their expressed ideas floating in the ether (for example, that I am cheap or deceptive). Why do people voice them, and why do we make the recipients of these insults feel like they are the ones being unreasonable if they complain?

I think more people are irritated by this than are willing to admit.
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