I guess we’ve each done it at different times. We laugh at someone verses with them. This seems to happen more in group settings than individual because groups often give us psychological insulation – we feel protected within the parameters of the group. We may say or do things we would not engage in as an individual. In psychology, we label this phenomenon as ‘group think’ – sort of like ‘monkey see, monkey do’ type mentality.
Groups, predictably, psychologically collapse to the lowest denominator of the group member – this is certainly true in family systems. The most neurotic family member calls the shots for the entire family. The family acquieses to the needs of the sickest family member. Groups frequently mimic familial dynamics.
It fascinates me when a group will bully or slam or make fun of or criticize or laugh at another. This is an example of when the group slips to the lowest denominator of the dominant and twisted person. I feel ashamed when I’m with a group and this occurs. I do recognize the distinction between teasing verses unkindness or cruelty. I have gotten into heated arguments when I’ve been in this situation – when someone is intentionally and cruelly critiquing another. I give credit to my mother.
My mother is innately kind. My first lesson in not participating in the group think and laughing at others was when I was in third grade. We lived in Stow, OH. A girl in my class Bonita, was larger than the rest of us and mentally impaired. Chronologically, Bonita belonged in 5th grade, but her mental lethargy required her to be placed with my third grade class. Bonita loved physical affection. She ran up to anyone and tried to kiss them. Well, this caused quite the stir on our playground. Everybody ran away when Bonita approached with her body crushing hugs and drowning wet kisses. Children laughed and sneered and made fun of Bonita. I felt great compassion for her. Most of the time, I allowed her to kiss me on the cheek, and agreed to push her on the swing. The other kids made fun of me for befriending Bonita. I didn’t care. I even tried to physically defend her against the class bullies. This was difficult for me because although I was tall, I was very skinny and didn’t have any physical strength to back up my verbal threats. Most of the time, I got the bullies to leave Bonita alone. I couldn’t stand anyone hurting her either physically or emotionally.
Several years later, we lived in Williamsville, NY. My mother was driving and we came to a 4-way stop sign. I impulsively stuck my tongue out at the opposite car. I was about 11 years-old, and I cannot remember why I did such a thing. My mother turned and slapped me hard across my face. I was shocked. She told me that I had no idea who could be in that car and they may interpret my behavior as cruel mockery. Between Bonita and my mother’s hard slap, I got it.
I am extremely sensitive to laughing or mocking or making fun of another. I don’t do it. Laughing at others with intentional malice is cruel. It’s a small person who engages in the behavior. I am so glad I have surrounded myself with the kindest of friends.