The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 18 Oct 2015, and is filled under Uncategorized.

Banter

Men don’t like people who stand out in any way. It seems to make us feel troubled and insecure. If someone does something exceptional, whether it’s the clothes they wear, the attitudes they have or the things they do, the herd needs to quickly bring them back to what it sees as normality and safely restore order. Or this is what I saw last night.

I do voluntary work as a Street Pastor, as sometime visitors to this blog will know and, last night, we found ourselves talking to a troubled young man who was having a panic attack. The reason why he was having a panic attack was that he stopped a fight from taking place and then found himself, once again, the butt of his friends’ jokes.

From what I could tell, between wracking sobs, this was the latest incident in a long, long line. The young man, who I’ll call Mike, has found himself in the unenviable position of being someone who people laugh at. He’s 17, he is very clever, very serious and, had he but the wit to realise it, very handsome. In time, he plans to study at Leeds University and I hope he will.

But because Mike is very clever, very serious and very handsome, people who might, perhaps, feel a bit jealous, were they to admit it, don’t like this. In what I was told by one of his supposed friends, they use ‘banter’ to make Mike feel like crap and reduce him to the place where we found him last night. To wit, agonisingly upset and crying his heart out.

You could perhaps dismiss this as teenage angst, were it not for the fact that to see it as such would patronise Mike and that I have seen this before, most notably in my own experience. Like Mike I was a studious, intense kid and as a result, I suffered too. I was the ready joke for my friends and things that were said, supposedly, as jokes, hurt and wounded me grievously.

And the jokes, such as they were, all had a purpose. That purpose was to reinforce group identity by making me want to look at my behaviour and reconfigure it so that it was less abhorrent to the group, while at the same time asserting that group’s power over individuals. I’ve seen this played out in any number of male-dominated worlds and it appals me.

Imagine you’re out with male friends for an evening in the pub or a bar. A man in the group tells a joke about rape. Everyone in the group laughs along, some with more conviction than others, but the prevailing mood is that it’s amusing. Just, as the word has it, ‘banter’. Are you going to be the one who says that it’s not acceptable and incur the wrath of everyone else and be seen as the pious bore?

I’ve been in this situation more times than I care to remember and, either through weakness of character, which I’ll readily admit to, or because social control is a powerful thing, I kept my own counsel. With the dubious benefit of age and more certain benefit of experience, I wouldn’t do this again, but for people like Mike, who don’t have either age or experience in their corner, to stand up for what you believe in, even when ‘banter’ says otherwise is positively heroic.

The answer for me was to move away to university and reinvent myself away from what everyone else said I should be. And I suspect the answer for Mike will be much the same. I doubt that in a few years’ time Mike will even recall the Street Pastors, much less the idiots who brought him to the state of emotional collapse, and that’s as it should be.

Last night, though, I saw someone who is in the process of becoming a truly exceptional young man. Someone who isn’t afraid to show care or to show compassion and is revealing himself to the world as a better person by far than his detractors. If you’re the praying kind, do please pray for Mike and lift him up to your God and, if not, know that there are good, good people out there and it is all our responsibility to make a world where everyone, regardless of age, race, sex, gender and sexual orientation can flourish.

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