Friendly fire

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When do friendly insults become hurtful?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 3, 2015

While some dub it as a masculine trait, others label it as immaturity. I’m speaking of the act of friendly insults: when we call our friends “losers,” “bitches,” or “idiots” for fun. Even though this type of interaction varies from friend circle to friend circle, and each cultural group reacts differently to name-callings and put-downs, we all have experienced friendly fire at one point or another. The question isn’t if it exists, but when too much is too much.

How fine is the line between bullying and simply being vulgar for the sake of fun? No friendship begins by signing a term of agreement, saying that X amount of name-calling can be accepted. Usually, this type of behaviour evolves over time as comfort levels go up and social barriers go down.

I’ve worked in a restaurant with an all-male back-of-house staff, and that shaped the dynamic of the working environment greatly. I saw how men behaved with each other both as team members, friends, and leaders. At some point in the whole interaction, an individual is highlighted as both easy-going and resilient. That is the one who will become the butt of the joke, the one member of the team everyone is okay calling out without any repercussion.

You want to feel sorry for that lonely individual as others gang up on him. You want to help him or do what the anti-bullying ads advise and step in. But not when it’s friendly fire, not when the dude actually enjoys the attention.

If you find yourself as the guy who everyone is making fun of, know this: nobody will help you, because you’re laughing along with them. You are not in distress. You are not harassed. The interaction between you and your friends from the outside appears to be perfectly normal. If it bugs you, you’ll need to step up and say something.

Or you can stop the insults yourself. This type of interaction is not one-sided. More often than not, people only continue this trend because you are knocking it back into their court. Stop. Recognize that you are dishing as much as you are receiving and stop. Otherwise, it continues to be one vicious cycle.

I enjoy busting balls now and then. It’s a perfectly normal masculine expression of appreciation and tough love. But at some point, we do need to grow up. We need to treat our friends and peers with respect. We cannot go out in public and continue calling out our friends for their shortcomings when we are 40, 50, or 60 years old. At some point, too much is, in fact, too much.

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