Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Etiquette of Humor III

III. WHAT NOT TO SAY



Humorous conversation should not be made to be about someone, especially in a group, even among a group of close friends. “Whew,” remarked a friend of mine once after a differ party where a woman we both knew laughingly dissected the life of another friend, “if she talks like that about so-and-so, I wonder what she says about me!”



One way to immediately halt the speaker is by saying, “Goodness, so-and-so always has such nice things to say about you!” and then immediately change the topic or follow it up with a lighthearted joke. When confronted with a question about someone or an unpleasant topic, find something positive to say, even if it is about the condition of someone's front lawn, the high polish on someone’s car, or a feel-good news story you recently saw on the news. Public gossip about others is an unbefitting topic and joking about someone behind their back is the same as backstabbing them (in public, there are eyewitnesses - so, be careful!)  


Consequently, the person who does not engage in mean-spirited joking at another’s expense is generally known as someone who never has an unkind thing to say.

No matter how tempting it may be to pass along a nasty joke at someone else’s expense or to join in a group talking unkindly about one group or another, do not do it. It doesn’t just defame the character of the other person; it defames you in the process. Tactful people keep their prejudices to themselves, taking care not to revel them in social jesting.



If you find another person’s joke distasteful or totally unacceptable, try to change the subject as soon as possible. If you care too intensely about a subject, it is dangerous to allow yourself to say anything. That is, if you can only expound your own fixed point of view, then you should never mention the subject except as a platform speaker. 

If, on the other hand, you are able to listen with an open mind, you may safely speak up on any topic. After all, any mutually interesting topic has the potential to lead to one about which you do not agree. 

In general, it is much better to withdraw from these sorts of discussions unless you can argue without bitterness or bigotry. Argument between coolheaded, skillful opponents may be an amusing game, but it can be very dangerous for those who become hotheaded and ill-tempered.



It is like rubbing salt into an open wound to make careless remarks about someone’s personal appearance such as “What happened to Susie’s weight? She went away to school fit as a fiddle and returned looking as if she swallowed it.” or “So, what’s really wrong with the Jones’ son?”

These questions may sound unbelievable, but they are the types of “set-up” questions many people continue to ask. If you have any sense, you wouldn’t repeat them or allow them to proliferate.



If, for example, you’re speaking with your grandmother, you wouldn’t tell her jokes about getting old, just as you wouldn’t make off-color remarks or complain about gaining weight to a person who is obese. 

It is not only unkind to ridicule or criticize others, but the tables can easily be turned on those who do. A young girl asked a boy she hoped to date, “How can you possibly go out with her?” “It’s easy,” he replied, “she’s my sister!”



It is also tactless to ask someone why they are not married, why they have no children, only have one arm, or why they are wearing a bandage or eye patch. Never ask someone whether he or she has had cosmetic surgery because they look so much better than they used to! The person who is ill will only be depressed that it shows, the person who looks better does not appreciate your attributing the improvement to cosmetic surgery, even if that is the case. 

In other words, there is no need to comment about a great number of things, just because one can. Many topics are extremely personal and should be respected as such. If a person wants to talk about a personal matter, he or she should be allowed to initiate the conversation; it is never up to us to do so. 


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