Everyone who knows me knows that I like to laugh. It helps me get through life. A lot of times I will laugh at myself for something I did. Sometimes I might even tell a close friend about the event and how embarrassing it would have been if someone had seen it. When I do, I know this friend will keep my little secret to themselves. Friends like this are so valued because they could easily break your trust but they don’t. I am so thankful that some things that have happened to me have not been caught on film. With the ability of people to make videos from their phones embarrassing moments are going viral every day on the computer. Though it is funny it can be very embarrassing and hurtful to the victim.
I was sitting in this meeting at work two winters ago. There was a big snow storm that we had just got back from. You see it was so bad that they closed the university for a day or two. The leader told us of extra efforts on the part of one of our teammates. He had taken it upon himself to get on the treacherous road and slowly drive to work. He knew he had to keep the computers going. His efforts no doubt should have been greatly appreciated. As he was trying to get up the hill to a parking lot that wasn’t plowed he got stuck. He ended up having to get out of his car and push. Unfortunately while he was out there pushing his pants split. The leader was telling us about this incident. He mentioned how when he heard about this unfortunate event from the victim he couldn’t stop laughing. People all around were getting a good laugh and I have to admit I laughed a little too. The leader had a little ceremony where new pants and a shovel were presented to our teammate. As everyone laughed I happened to look at this guy who so bravely sacrificed his time for the good of all of us. Instead of laughing his face was beet red. Suddenly the smile left my face. I remembered a similar moment in my life when I was a happy teenager.
I was in a church youth group and we were sitting around on the floor while the leader was talking. All of the sudden out of the blue he looked at my head and made a proclamation. “Lewie’s going bald”, he said, “I never noticed that before.” I don’t remember if there was much laughter there that night. It wasn’t a joke it was an observation he was making. However to a 17 year old kid who was very self conscious and had a whole head of hair his comment was devastating. It was embarrassing to me to have someone say that around the girls and guys in the group. My mom noticed I was down and she asked me what was wrong. I mentioned what the leader had told me and the group and bless her soul she called him. They talked for a little while and she told him that I was feeling bad because of what he said. I’m not sure where the conversation went from there but he found out that what he said bothered me.
The very next week we were all sitting on the floor again at our youth meeting when the first thing out of the leaders mouth was that my mom had called him. He mentioned that it bothered me that he said I was going bald and the whole group laughed. To me it sounded like an uproar and I was totally devastated.
I don’t know why this was brought up again. I also can’t explain why the leader in the other situation thought it was necessary to honor the victim with gifts. However if you pressed me for an answer here is what I think. I think that when people have leadership roles too often they want to be funny. While laughing can be a good thing in both of those examples there was one person who wasn’t laughing and that was the person who was the butt of the joke. I was reading a comment yesterday that said “How can all of us be happy when one of us isn’t?” I have never heard it put like that before and makes for an interesting question to the stories.
Too often when we are in a group situation and the leader does something that embarrasses someone else for a laugh we don’t say anything. We don’t want to get fired from a job or become a so called trouble maker in the group. However I can tell you that the embarrassment is real and it doesn’t have to occur. To the leaders of groups be careful. If you are making a joke make sure someone isn’t getting thrown under the bus for the laugh. If you feel you have to give a gift to the person who had an unfortunate situation happen you might think about doing it in private. If you were really concerned about helping someone that would be sufficient.
It’s strange but I haven’t thought about that hurtful youth group moment for years. Somewhere over time I have forgiven. The Bible states that when God forgives he forgets. That is one thing that we can do that God can’t. We can still remember things that we have forgiven people for. We can still remember the hurt we felt and the words that were said. Maybe that hurt can be remembered so we can learn from it and not follow those actions when we become leaders.
I admit that now I am going bald. I also will tell you that I am almost 60 years old. Today I am much more mature and I could take a comment like that better although I still wouldn’t like it. Leaders, if you must make a joke that will throw someone under the bus throw yourself under there. Somehow I’ll bet there will be a lot less hurtful words that cheaply get a laugh that will soon be forgotten, except by the people that get injured.