Also often known as bullying, intuitive joking is making fun of a weak or blind spot in someone or something else at the expense of their sense of safety and inclusion in a group.
The other day, as my friend and I were dragging my luggage out to my car to take off for the holiday, my neighbor happened to arrive home for the day. He hopped out of his big truck in his work uniform (which often has a gun on it), looked over at us curiously and shouted hello. I was glad to see him because I wanted to let him know I would be going and ask him to keep an eye on a friend's vehicle that would remain parked outside my home while I was gone. He was very friendly (as usual) and nodded his head enthusiastically asking some of the chit-chat questions about the weather where I was going and then how long I would be gone.
What happened next took place literally in less than 30 seconds, but I found myself in my car a few minutes later gripping the steering wheel and feeling my heart beat still accelerated from the interpersonal interaction that occurred between my neighbor and my friend.My neighbor asked me if there would be anyone coming by the house to take care of the creatures inside. I pointed at my friend and introduced her by saying, "Yes, this my amazing friend ______, she'll be coming by every day." She was standing a few feet away from me on the sidewalk, directly facing him, while I still was partially inside my vehicle securing my luggage.
Then my neighbor cracked a joke... "just a joke" as we often say.... and yet knowing my friend's past experiences with being the butt of many cruel jokes, and knowing this model, my spine snapped upright as I heard him say it, "I don't know, she looks kinda sketchy to me." I felt like a mama Gazelle on the Savannah and my baby felt way to far away all of the sudden.
I slipped out from behind my car door and stepped quickly over, throwing my arms around the shoulders of my friend. If you could have slowed these few seconds down in my head, here's what you would might have heard.
1. What an @ss#ole! How dare he ATTACK my friend even in a joking way.
2. This is my neighbor, I have to be careful on how I handle this because I could burn a bridge with him if I overreact (and I need him to watch my other friend's car!).
3. Wow, it's amazing how intuitive we are about each others' wounds, he has no idea the history of bullying my friend has experienced and how hurtful what he just said actually is too her.
4. No matter what I do here, this is going to be awkward, because I know my friend will not make a joke back off of his. In fact, she looks like a deer frozen in the headlights.
So, I did the only thing I know to do, I joined her and owned the label he was putting on her. I said with a giant enthusiastic smile, "If she is sketchy, so am I!" My neighbor looked like he winced a tiny bit, then he dropped his head for a microsecond and responded, "Me too! I think we are all sketchy in a way!" I smiled and chuckled as I agreed, "Often in the best ways!" Then my friend melted under my strong grip around her shoulders, smiled, and laughed nodding her head with us. We said goodbye to my neighbor, hugged each other again, and off I went to the airport. Such a tiny moment where what most people would call a "harmless joke" hit a bulls-eye in a way that my neighbor will never know.
A few days later, my friend and I talked about that moment and my friend agreed that she had frozen when my neighbor mocked her as looking sketchy. "When I was bullied throughout my career, my colleagues would make fun of me, and then put me down for not being able to take a joke." I was saddened and angry by this and tried to recall when I might have done the same thing to someone I did not consider my friend.
More than anything I was grateful for this model and how practicing it in the big ways, led to a moment where I was able to feel myself fall into the scarcity model in my concern and need to rescue my friend by defending her and the strong desire to attack my neighbor back. I could have reacted by saying, "If she's sketchy, you look like you just escaped from prison!" or something similarly weird and mean. Instead switching into the frame of the new roles, I saw my neighbor as a challenger, and creatively responded to his poking words by joining my friend and finding his label on her like a beautiful color I chose to claim as my own (like the coaching butterfly lands on beautiful things). As I did this, I felt a delight in the excuse to reach for my friend and hug her (connect) not just once but twice before I left for the airport. Then, as I took on the label of "sketchy" with a smile and laugh, my neighbor was outnumbered and immediately claimed himself a member of our newly defined "sketchy" group. He then included everyone else on the planet with us, which took all the separateness away in one sentence. The three of us then reflected in our body language (smiling, laughing) that we had reconnected and were finding humor TOGETHER in shadowy angles we all hold as humans.
In just a couple minutes of interaction, polarizing relationships found a way to rejoin through heart. While I'm sure in the past I have been the neighbor in this story, and also my friend in other ones, I thought that writing an example of how quickly our relationships split and begin to polarize might be useful to remind myself how practicing this new model is a breath by breath exercise.
Photos (labeled for reuse on google images):
1. car with luggage -https://www.flickr.com/photos/sohumb/335926302
2. Gazelle - https://slateraliadventure.wordpress.com/
3. stopwatch - https://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2012/04/05/01/46/stopwatch-25763_960_720.png