Recently I’ve cut down drastically on my use of harsh language in an offensive manner, but I’m wondering on something. Me and my friends will ridicule each other and call each other unbelievably horrid things, just to joke around. We all know it, and in case any of them ever take me seriously I quickly make sure that they know I’m joking, and it’s all in the spirit of fun. Which they then understand and we continue. What do you think about this?
I think this may be more of a question for a psychologist than a Buddhist, but I’ll give it a shot. There are two ways of looking at this:
1) You and your friends all know you’re only kidding, and as long as no one gets carried away or angry, it’s all in good fun. No harm done. I have friends that I “snipe” with as well. It’s really a matter of intention and how close you are. Still, it can very easily lead to problems.
2) It’s easy to go too far and cause hurt. You never know when it’s going to happen, but it can happen, and when it does, it’ll be too late to correct. Everyone knows not to call children “stupid” and other things; we all know their self-esteem will be damaged. Adults have thicker skins, but over time, it will wear through.
3) Another thing to consider is that words, even in jest, have power. Constant repetition of certain words used as an insult do lead to real social problems. As an example, there is a certain derogatory word associated with homosexuals (the “other” F-word) that I hear used constantly among teenagers, and this has to amplify any teens’ fears or homophobia. If it’s that insulting to be called one, then it must be really terrible to actually be one, right?
It’s very easy for words to cause suffering in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Although verbal humorous sniping is usually socially acceptable in limited amounts, as a Buddhist, you need to think through the whole picture and decide where the fun stops and the suffering begins.