One day, when I was in my final year at school, I noticed that, instead of entering the Lunch Room, a friend, who had joined our school that academic year, was walking empty-handed towards the Library. Thinking that he had forgotten to carry his lunch to school that day, I offered to share my lunch with him. He thanked me for my offer, but declined, saying that he was fasting that month according to the custom in his religion.
After having my lunch, I met this friend in the Library. I asked him whether he had observed this month-long dawn to dusk fast in the past or whether this was the first time. He replied that this was the second year. I told him that, while I knew that some of our classmates’ parents observed this particular fast, he was the first schoolboy I knew who did so. I then asked him the purpose of this fast. After he described the purposes and benefits, I asked him to clarify a particular point. All of a sudden, he got upset and accused me of trying to ridicule him and at his religion. He walked away, ignoring my assurance that I was genuinely interested in understanding this aspect of his religion.
At first, I was hurt by my friend’s behaviour, but later, I recalled that he had been upset that some of our classmates would make comments that poked fun at his religion. These comments had never been directed at him, but at other boys belonging to the same religion. The boys at whom these comments were directed appeared to be unperturbed by these comments, which were made by their closest friends. In turn, they made similar comments about their friends’ religious and food habits. Some of us found all these comments distasteful, but we could do nothing about it since there was no vulgar language used. On one occasion, when somebody had asked them to avoid such comments, these boys had replied that they were “just having harmless fun” among themselves. Obviously, they did not understand that their “harmless fun” was considered not fun, but cruelty by many others.
My friend had probably got upset with me because he had assumed that, like these classmates, I was also trying to poke fun at his religion.
Isn’t this kind of “harmless fun” found all over the place? Many of us indulge in it regularly, while some of us do so not very often. But, jokes and comments about physical appearance (height, weight, skin colour, etc.), dress sense, language, accents, age, gender, religion, caste, economic status, educational background, profession, place of residence, food habits, etc. are commonplace.
Most of us love to indulge in “harmless fun” at the expense of others, but how many of us actually enjoy “harmless fun” when it is directed at us? Some of us may enjoy it because we are capable of defending ourselves and/or giving back in kind. However, would we enjoy “harmless fun” if the targets are loved ones who are not capable of defending themselves and/or giving back in kind? Or would we like it if we are made targets of “harmless fun” by our superiors at work or others who have some kind of hold over us?
Next time we think of “just having harmless fun” at somebody else’s expense, let us stop and ask ourselves whether we’re “just having harmless fun” or simply being cruel.