How to be a Decent Human

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

I’m not a great person.

Sometimes I’m not even good, exactly.

I’d like to think I’m alright.

At the very least, I certainly try to be decent.

It’s not such a complicated thing really. I read a quote from comedian Ricky Gervais recently. He was commenting on the idea that people felt like they couldn’t joke anymore, and how that really wasn’t the case. The full quote is below.

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The crux of this really comes down to how a person reacts to a contrary opinion. Yes, you can tell a joke, but if it ends up hurting someone else that hears it, the question becomes not ‘was the joke funny’, but rather, ‘do you give a shit’?

Caring about other people is, after all, one of the chief qualifiers of decency.

If you tell a joke (or any other sort of comment or action) that gets a negative reaction, you don’t have to defend the joke, or your values, or lament the days where we could say anything we wanted and expect others to choke back their pain in defense of your ‘humour’.

People might be hurt. They may be upset or offended. And you, despite the joke being yours—and assuming it was not meant to hurt—can hear that pain.

It may come as a surprise that you can even ask questions. Not to challenge or undermine their feelings, but to better understand their experience to the extent they are comfortable sharing it.

In the end, you may both be able to learn something, transforming a painful encounter into an opportunity for mutual growth.

It’s not always easy, and no one likes being called out or corrected. It can be uncomfortable, even confusing at times to realize that something you’ve said or done has been deemed inappropriate by another.

What do you say? What do you do?

Well, one simple trick is to start with an apology. You don’t have to fully understand the nuance of differing opinions—it can be enough to understand that another is hurting, and that you are sorry for that. People sometimes need their pain acknowledged, and your obstinate focus on the hilarity of your joke should never undermine that need.

After that, there may be room for discussion, learning and growth. It’s important to remember of course, that the learning just may include the fact that the joke simply wasn’t funny, and that you should not repeat it.

That can be enough.

It’s not that you can’t discuss things anymore—it’s just that the discussion needs to have two sides. You’re not being told not to be yourself—unless you’re an asshole—and certainly, you can still feel free to joke around. Just realize that sometimes, there will be people who will point out the flaws of that joke. From there, it’s up to you to improve the approach, content, or delivery… or risk proving that the real joke is you.

-Brad OH Inc.

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