Thursday, 8 March 2012

When is a Joke, not a Joke?

I’m in Sussex again, with Mike and his family, so hence my lack of posts this past week or so. I’ve been chilling out, enjoying the quiet of my phone hardly getting a signal and looked at my inbox to find 450+ e-mails waiting for me. I have been one chilled bunny!

Yesterday I went to work with my Mother in law Andrea. She’s the Voluntary Services Manager for St Michael’s Hospice in Hastings. Andrea, along with two of the Hospices HR team Wendy and Leanne, were running an equality and diversity training/awareness day for St Michael’s staff called – When is a joke not a joke?

Although not planned I became part of the hosting team tackling issues such as inappropriate use of language, terms and humour in a working environment.

I was introduced as the “special” guest in reference to my special needs as a disabled person.  This was meant to provoke an emotion and reaction from the trainee’s – there were murmured laughs and half smiles with one person  after being let in on the joke confessed that me being referred to as the special one – left her feeling awkward and cringing.

So when is a joke not a joke? I came to a very vague answer that that there is an incredibly thin line between humour and embarrassment.

We had three groups coming in for training throughout the day and just the difference between the reactions to stories we told and joke’s we made were fascinating.

The sociologist Erving Goffman studied the effects of embarrassment in people and realised that we had different humours depending on their social situations.

The example we gave our groups was that when I visit Mike’s family we take the mickey out of each other like any other family does and I’m regularly asked whether I want my large handled spazzy knife and folk or when I have to go to front of queues or get assistance at events - I’m being a diva celebrity - getting “special” treatment.

When we told group one about this they laughed, group two gasped and seemed uncomfortable and group three were completely divided.

Another example of the mine field of jokes was when two of our groups were asked to read an article about a lawyer, who has dwarfism. She was mocked in court with a defendant singing “Hi ho, hi ho it’s off to work we go” at her (she’s now suing him!).

Andrea, Wendy and Leanne stood in three positions in our hall – each of them representing that the article was hilarious, mildly amusing or awful and offending. In the first group they either found the piece hilarious or funny with no one offended by the Snow White reference.  Surprisingly the second group had 8 offended people in their midst.

When you know that these groups were put together randomly with a mixture of clinical, nursing, admin and site maintenance staff you couldn’t predict anyone’s reactions. Think about your work place and family and friends, could you predict their responses?

Although exhausting I had a really interesting day, it has certainly made me question my own humour, I’m not easily offended but when rape, abuse or murder are used for a laugh – I will switch off! So next time you go to forward a chain e-mail or text think about who you’re sending it too.

L x

1 comment:

  1. I think many people use humour to hide embarrassment or shyness. Sarcasm is quoted as the lowest form of wit and only recently I have had to 'have words' with a sarcastic person. Depending on the company comes the limit to be reached when having a laugh at someones expense, but these days at work especially, everyone has to be careful due to the 'that's bullying' brigade. Poking fun can be funny; when you feel uncomfortable with what's being said then its time to stop the banter and draw the line.... And if you never feel uncomfortable in certain situations maybe, just maybe you are that bully - its not big and it's not clever.


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