I Said Something Stupid Because I Say Stupid Things
Last night on Discord, someone shared a thing happening in their personal life. Without saying what it was, this person made themselves vulnerable to the rest of us. We were supportive and understanding- except me. I decided that was the right time to make a joke.
The response was immediate and unequivocal: I had committed a major faux pas. I’m pretty sure everyone used the word “shitty” to denounce it; there were suggestions I was “mentally deficient” or possibly a psychopath. The strength and unanimity of the rebuke stunned me. It didn’t help there was already some resentment towards me, but this was something else entirely. My instinct was to respond aggressively; I at least had enough strength not to do that. It took a little bit to sink in; I spent a decent part of the night lying awake and contemplating my self-immolation.
I said something stupid I should not have said. It didn’t add to anything or help anything. I damaged relationships. There are two recurring themes in the background of what I said: The first is that I am constantly thinking of stupid, harmful things to say in a feeble attempt at humor. Not intentionally, but they’re there. Normally, my “don’t say something stupid” filter catches it, but I had taken my nighttime medication and my defenses were lowered. The drugs didn’t make me think it or say it, they only made me less careful. The second is that I’m always surprised when it blows up in my face, which it always does.
This goes back a long way. When I was young and struggling to get through the school day, I developed a number of defense mechanisms to help me. These mechanisms included finding a weakness in someone to verbally attack and to be funny. If I could be funny, people would like me more. And even if people didn’t like me more, I would enjoy the act of being funny. Instead of being the class clown, I was the class irritant. My “jokes” were often loud interruptions of whatever was happening. I can remember several occasions when my exasperated classmates yelled at me to just shut up already. I wouldn’t, because the next joke was going to be great, and I’d come out ahead.
Some of them were mean, like the time I mocked my typing teacher for no real reason. Some were oblivious, like the time I was touring Ohio Northern University and one of the deans greeted us. She asked if everyone could hear her, and me, in the second row, belted, “WHAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY?” I didn’t notice the uncomfortable silence, nor the embarrassment and fury of my father sitting next to me. There was also the time I made a really stupid joke at a work function. That time, I absolutely picked up on the discomfort.
Another mistake I make is to twist the Golden Rule into something harmful. My rationale was, as long as I was OK with someone saying to me what I said to them, it’s acceptable. It wasn’t acceptable then and it’s not acceptable now. This was a constant problem for me in my teenage years. If I met someone, I would start making fun of them at the first opportunity. In my brain, this was being friendly. We’re all flawed! Let’s poke fun at it and laugh! In reality, these new acquaintances would pull my friend aside and asked, “Why did you bring that guy?” And he’d have to say he doesn’t mean it, you just have to get to know him. And some people did and accepted “that’s just how you are,” which speaks a good deal to their character.
Sometimes, I know right away I said something stupid. If I’m lucky, I can apologize right away and that’s accepted. Sometimes, I see nothing wrong with what I said- and that’s when it can get ugly. I don’t know how to stop myself from thinking these upsetting things. I don’t know if it’s possible to stop them. If not, my only real strategy is to be vigilant against myself. Last night showed that’s going to fail.
The only thing I know how to do is express contrition and try to do better. That doesn’t undo damage. I wish I had something more, some way to actually be better, but I don’t.