Is teasing a sin against the Fifth Commandment?
Let’s clear this up right here, right now.
Is teasing a sin against the Fifth (thou shall not kill/thou shall not harm) Commandment? Maybe. And to further clarify: sometimes.
So what is teasing, what is sinning, and where’s the line?
For this we turn to a group of adolescent males shooting hoops in the driveway, inhaling burgers at the fast-food joint or shuffling down the school hallway. That is, in their native habitat.
Watch and listen as they call each other names and make disparaging remarks about each other’s appearance, abilities or family lineage. Note how they shove and punch one another with wild and gleeful abandon.
See how, almost always, there’s no harm, no foul. Each gives and receives equally, to the enjoyment of all. But, to use another common expression, “It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt.” Until a comment is too cutting. Until a punch on the shoulder packs too much power.
Until — for whatever reason — the day that one of the group members doesn’t want to play anymore and another member gets mean.
Ideally, as adolescents, they’re learning where that “sin line” is, even if they never use the term or know anything about the concept of sin. They’re discovering where and when a typically normal and acceptable amount of teasing becomes too much. Ideally, it’s a lesson they take with them into adulthood and it serves them well.
Then, too, on the dark side, as they grow older and are less inclined to shove or punch, they know where that line is and how to cross it without leaving bruises. But, ask anyone who’s been bullied by verbal abuse, teasing can leave scars.
You may have noticed I have written here only about boys. Having spent ninth through 12th grades in an all-boys boarding school, I know whereof I speak. But, I’m also confident, the females of the species have their own equivalent.
All that being said, when does good-natured joshing and harmless humors cascade down that slippery slope into sin?
A few points to consider
1. As adults, we usually know when we’ve hurt someone else because we know how we’ve hurt them. We’d like to claim we don’t know those things but … we do. We know when our teasing bothers, stings and devastates another person because we know, we’ve learned, teasing is a powerful and handy weapon. A generally socially acceptable weapon. Even by law.
Give someone a hard time about his rather, uh, prominent nose and no criminal charges are filed. Whack it with a badminton racquet and — game over — you’re on your way to jail, buddy.
Be aware, make it right
2. Just for the sake of argument, to deal with your arguing: If we don’t know we’ve crossed the line into hurting someone, we should know. As adults, as Catholics, we have an obligation to be aware of another’s situation, feelings and vulnerabilities. We want the same from others for ourselves.
And then there’s that pesky No. 2 on the list of the two greatest commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39).
OK, OK, let’s say you made a quite amusing comment and really didn’t see the “sin line” about 10 feet behind you. Later, you realize you’ve hurt someone. Or maybe a third party sets you straight by pointing out what your words did. In either case, it means you need to apologize. That’s far, far, far from asking too much.
Take, for example, you accidentally bump into someone as you’re getting off an elevator. You offer an immediate “Excuse me.” No, you didn’t intend to bump anyone. Still, you know saying “sorry” is the right thing to do.
So how about if the funny, clever, teasing words — your “just joking around” — are received like a stiff jab to the stomach? Like getting doused with a cold bucket of humiliation?
You know what you have to do. As best as you can, you have to make it right. Harder than the elevator “Excuse me”? Oh, yes. More important? Absolutely.
How much pain?
3. Perhaps at this point you’re thinking, “People are just too sensitive these days. They need to lighten up. Why, when I was a kid, we all used to ….” Maybe call each other a lot of unkind names. And — be honest here — didn’t the one they used on you sometimes sting? No? But you still clearly recall it? Interesting.
And imagine this: You go to the doctor because you’re having horrific problems with your back, and your personal care provider says, “Nah, that’s not so bad. On a scale of one to 10, your pain is no more than a two. You’re too sensitive. You need to lighten up.”
Just as you’re the one who can say, “It’s a nine,” the person you’ve been kidding can (but probably won’t) say, “That hurts too much. It isn’t funny.” And both of you — the patient and the one who’s been teased — are right. Only the person who’s in pain can determine how much that pinched nerve or those mean words hurt.
What it says about you
4. Uh oh. Sometimes our teasing says something about us — more than we’d care to reveal and that we may be unaware we are even revealing. It’s the old, but still very popular, “I put you down (in a really witty way) to raise me up.”
Part of the pack
5. And as long as we’re doing a little soul searching here (ouch!), there also can be times when we we’re not the teaser, but one of our cronies filled the role. We’re “just” part of the pack that watches some poor unfortunate bystander or friend get skewered and — even if we’re not laughing or smiling — we’re not saying anything in the victim’s defense or calling out the perpetrator for the attack.
We’re guilty of the very bothersome “sin of omission.” (“But I didn’t do nothin’!” Exactly.) Through my most grievous fault, for what I have done and for what I have failed to do.
6. One final point. Just as it takes practice to learn to speak up to defend someone, so too when it comes to defending ourselves. (And practice makes it easier.)
Speaking up, for instance, even if it means telling family members gathered for Thanksgiving that you no longer want to hear the “hilarious” story about that time you dropped the pumpkin pie.
Forty years ago.
When you were 6.
Bill Dodds writes from Washington.
|Changing One Word In Christ’s Passion|
See if you can spot the one word that’s been changed in these very familiar verses telling of Jesus’ Passion:
The soldiers led him away inside the palace, that is, the praetorium, and assembled the whole cohort. They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him. They began to salute him with, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him. They knelt before him in homage. And when they had “teased” him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him out to crucify him (Mk 15:16-20).
Those passing by [the crucified Christ] reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, [and] come down from the cross!” (Mt 27:39-40).
Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders teased and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.” (Mt 27:41-43).
Kind of jumped out didn’t it? The Gospel says, “when they had mocked him” and “likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him” but, of course, mocking is just amped-up teasing.
Joshing. Kidding. Joking. Bullying. Mocking. Abusing. All points along the teasing spectrum.
There are times, places and ways for harmless, humorous teasing. And then it really is delightful for all and not damaging to any. But then ….
Yes, in the same sense as just a “hand” that can give a playful pat on the back … or a slap in the face.