Thursday, October 8, 2009

This I Believe

The NPR standard (and books) This I Believe is a favorite of mine. Begun by Edward R. Murrow, it gives essayists their due time in the limelight (over 60,000 submissions!), and provides an interested audience for musings about life.

I edited This I Believe essays for a dozen former students this fall, and finally settled on a topic to doodle about on my own time. It's not a full essay, but here's one thing I believe, even if I don't always heed it:

The words, "I'm just kidding" should be eradicated from our collective vocabulary.

In the halls of the school where I teach, I hear the words and see their effect far too often. Though the little phrase is an off-hand admission of regret for what's been said, we'd all be better off without that not-so-little white lie.

Hearing the phrase "just kidding" doesn't erase the hurt, but it does erode trust. Speaking the phrase doesn't soften harsh words or retract what's been uttered. The impulse to tell someone I was only joking simply means I should have kept quiet to begin with.

People try to excuse offensive behavior with the "just kidding" Band-Aid instead of sincerely apologizing. The phrase is an effort to redirect insecurities onto the verbal target ("Can't you take a joke? I didn't mean it.") rather than owning up to rudeness.

If we don't mean it, we shouldn't say it, and if a truth needs to be told, it shouldn't be masked as meaningless ribbing. I'm willing to bet that "I'm just kidding" is the most often told lie. And it's no joke.

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