kindness

Teasing friends

Submitting anonymously: 

I’m autistic, and I’ve learned to tease my friends as a social skill. I think it’s ok to tease your friends a little bit, but sometimes I think I go just a little bit too far.

My friends don’t say anything, though. The teasing has become sort of mechanical and ingrained at this point, but I want to learn how to not tease my friends so much. 

Do you know how I can cut back on teasing my friends?

realsocialskills said:

I think the most important thing is to make sure that your friends know you care how they feel. And to make sure that you’re paying attention to how they feel.

It’s ok to tease your friends so long as you’re both enjoying it. Making fun of one another in good-natured ways is part of a lot of friendships. What’s bad is to make fun of someone in a way that actually hurts them. If it hurts them, then it’s not friendly anymore, even if you didn’t mean to hurt them.

One rule of thumb is: don’t tease your friends about things they’re actually for-real painfully insecure about. That just ends up hurting. 

It’s also important to pay attention to their reaction. If your friends are enjoying the teasing, they’ll likely respond back. If they’re not, they’ll likely not respond, or look upset. If they’re not actively looking like they’re into it, it’s a sign that you’ve probably crossed a line and hurt them. If that happens, back off and maybe apologize.

That goes double if your friends tell you it hurts them. A lot of people who either like hurting others or don’t care how people feel use fake-friendly teasing as a cover for being mean. When someone expresses hurt, they say things like “I was just kidding, don’t be so sensitive.” Don’t do that. If your friends are hurt by something you said about them, take that seriously and apologize. Everyone makes mistakes that hurt other people sometimes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big deal.

It also might help to ask your friends what they think. Eg, by asking one of your friends something like “I think I’ve been going too far when I joke around. Do you think I’m upsetting people?”

Anyone else want to weigh in? How have you found ways to be kinder in your interactions with friends?

A thought about tone and comfort

If you speak about injustice and privileged people get offended, people will condescendingly explain to you that things are easier to hear if you are nice, and that you are more likely to convince people if you speak to them respectfully.

This is true, and often important to keep in mind – but people who say that to you in a conversation about injustice are usually missing the point.

They’re ignoring something fundamentally important about addressing injustice: Sometimes, the goal is not to convince privileged people to treat others better. Sometimes, the goal is to convince marginalized people that the way they are being treated is unjust and that it’s possible to resist.

There can be a tradeoff between saying things in a way it is easy for victims to hear and saying things in a way that it is easy for privileged people to hear. Sometimes, no matter which way you say it, upsetting one group or the other is inevitable. 

When you choose to say things in a way that is easy and comfortable for marginalized people to hear, you are likely to upset privileged people who are used to being addressed deferentially in these matters. And they will make their displeasure known, and other people will lecture you about being kind and building bridges.

When you choose to say things in a way that is easy and comfortable for privileged people to hear, you are likely to hurt marginalized people who are accustomed to having their feelings disregarded. They are unlikely to complain, because complaining rarely helps and often invites retaliation. When you choose to make your words comfortable for privileged people at the expense of marginalized people, no one will lecture you about kindness, tone, or saying things in a way people can hear. It will not occur to them that it matters how the victims of injustice feel in conversations about injustice.

This dynamic will be invisible to those who lecture about tone and kindness, but it should not be invisible to you. Do not let others pressure you into disregarding the feelings of marginalized people for the sake of the powerful.