In this age of political correctness, people seem to be less able to take a joke than ever. Humor is a great diffusing force that enables us to move through life easier. But people are taking things so seriously that humor is disappearing, and is being replaced with anger and hostility, with less understanding of each other.
To give one example, a few weeks ago my roommate had a couple friends over one afternoon. One of the friends was a girl. At one point, she got up to use a bathroom in one of my roommate’s rooms. Someone made a comment about how messy the room was and how you could barely walk in there. I followed with a remark about her being brave to attempt to navigate through the room covered with dirty clothes. A couple weeks after this encounter, one of my roommates told me that the girl was highly offended by the remark I made. I hadn’t even remembered what I said. She had taken it as an insult to question whether she had the audacity to go into a guy’s bathroom. The conversation that took place was not at all related to gender, although this girl was able to spin a friendly joke into a supposed sexist verbal attack.
Finding out that I had offended my roommate’s friend a couple weeks after the incident, and from a roommate no less, didn’t sit well with me. I wish she had felt comfortable enough to share her disdain for my comment with me directly, although I can see how she might not be ready to share her thoughts with an acquaintance. This barrier in human communication leads to a lot of difficulties in being able to communicate effectively with one another.
When people base their perceptions of a person on subtle comments such as the example I provided, they form opinions of others that may or may not coincide with who that person really is. Our brains make judgements about people very quickly, for better or worse. When we interact with others, it’s not as if we’ve prepared a rehearsed speech that is sure to communicate exactly what we want. Conversations don’t always flow smoothly, people say dumb things and sometimes we regret the mindless things that occasionally fly out of our mouths.
What causes people to perceive comments in such drastically different manners?
The way we each perceive the world is convoluted by our own experiences, and can distort our communication with others. When we’re having a bad day, we’re much more likely to explode when someone does something that irritates us. When we’re in a good mood, it’s easier to look past miniscule things.
The more we let other people’s actions or comments interfere with our own well-being, it’s a sign of emotional instability on our part, rather than a problem with the person who said it.
“If people are being outright nasty to you it’s pretty obvious. It’s insane to me that people can take something that was supposed to be funny and twist it into malice and hate,” explains UO Sophomore Jesse Fox.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from emotional reactivity is what some have called being “unfuckwithable.” The site positivewordsresearch.com defines the word as “when you’re truly at peace and in touch with yourself, and nothing anyone says or does bother you, and no negativity or drama can touch you.” This is a state where you can choose how to react to what another person says or does, no matter how insidious, and make a conscious decision about how to react.
If we let ourselves be influenced by the uproars of offense that other people make when we say something controversial or edgy, we turn into boring drones who just say what we think other people want to hear. The true mavericks, such as Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Elon Musk and others never let the fear of being judged negatively by others prevent them from speaking their mind and sharing their truth. While all were ridiculed at first, once people are able to expand their horizons and open up to new ideas, the world can change.
I would much rather have someone get upset by something controversial that I said, rather than bore them with the drones of cliched small talk that we’ve all heard a million times in an attempt to be socially accepted.