Thursday, December 11, 2008

In defense of teasing

Datcher Keltner, a professor of psychology, writes "In Defense of Teasing." The argument is that teasing - as opposed to bullying and harassment - is important for learning how to be human. One of the difficulties with making rules or laws against harassment is that the distinctions seem impossible for the often obtuse rule enforcers to make. From the New York Times Magazine:
.... Today teasing has been all but banished from the lives of many children. In recent years, high-profile school shootings and teenage suicides have inspired a wave of “zero tolerance” movements in our schools. Accused teasers are now made to utter their teases in front of the class, under the stern eye of teachers. Children are given detention for sarcastic comments on the playground. Schools are decreed “teasing free.”

And we are phasing out teasing in many other corners of social life as well. Sexual-harassment courses advise work colleagues not to tease or joke. Marriage counselors encourage direct criticism over playful provocation. No-taunting rules have even arisen in the N.B.A. and the N.F.L. to discourage “trash talking.”

The reason teasing is viewed as inherently damaging is that it is too often confused with bullying. But bullying is something different; it’s aggression, pure and simple. Bullies steal, punch, kick, harass and humiliate. Sexual harassers grope, leer and make crude, often threatening passes. They’re pretty ineffectual flirts. By contrast, teasing is a mode of play, no doubt with a sharp edge, in which we provoke to negotiate life’s ambiguities and conflicts. And it is essential to making us fully human. ....

.... Productive teasing is rarely physically hurtful and doesn’t expose deep vulnerabilities — like a romantic failure or a physical handicap. Off-record markers — funny facial expressions, exaggeration and repetition — also help mark the tease as playful rather than hostile. And social context means a lot. Where teasing provides an arena to safely explore conflict, it can join people in a common cause. Especially when they’re allowed to tease back. ....

In seeking to protect our children from bullying and aggression, we risk depriving them of a most remarkable form of social exchange. In teasing, we learn to use our voices, bodies and faces, and to read those of others — the raw materials of emotional intelligence and the moral imagination. We learn the wisdom of laughing at ourselves, and not taking the self too seriously. We learn boundaries between danger and safety, right and wrong, friend and foe, male and female, what is serious and what is not. We transform the many conflicts of social living into entertaining dramas. No kidding. [more]

Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the reference.

In Defense of Teasing -

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