Integrity Matters
February 25, 2004

Ethnic humor not funny

Question: (E-097)

Dear Jim:

I've received much e-mail from people containing ethnic humor. No ethnic block is spared, but these are all likely to offend someone. I am offended. I don't want to hurt the feelings of friends and relatives who send me this garbage and demand that they stop. What is wrong with our society that people feel free to send this garbage?


The answer is you, along with a large segment of our society. Good people just like you, who are not quite sure how much risk to take to stand up for what is important to them, are responsible for why this cruel and sarcastic material continues to be shipped around. When caring and thoughtful people confront these insensitivities and say they are not going to put up with it anymore, then quite a bit of it will stop.

That singing group, Peter, Paul and Mary, present a wonderfully thoughtful song entitled: "Don't Laugh At Me." Its lyrics address this issue of cruelty and insensitivity, both maturely and compassionately:

"I'm a little boy with glasses -- the one they call a geek, a little girl who never smiles 'cause I have braces on my teeth. And I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep.

"I'm that kid on every playground who's always chosen last -- a single mother tryin' to overcome my past.

"Don't laugh at me. Don't get your pleasure from my pain. In God's eyes we're all the same. Someday we'll all have perfect wings..."

As these troubadours and teachers remind us, the answer is truly "blowin' in the wind." Obviously, there is risk in confronting one's friends and colleagues. There is a certain discomfort, even anxiety, in announcing personal standards and requesting that those values be respected. There is a potential high price for maintaining principles. With true friends, the risk is small. With others, the rejections can make a significant part of life very lonely.

So, if you are hurt by cruel and insensitive "humor" then evaluate the consequences of being direct with colleagues and communicate how important your own integrity is and why integrity matters to you. Ask others to lay off the sarcasm and the zingers and see what wonderful things might happen.

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