No . . . this is not another COVID-19 blog about the symptoms of the virus. Everyone seems to be writing those. But I do seem to remember having a life before “The Pandemic.”
I attended a board meeting earlier today at which one of the members made a joke directed at the treasurer: “I hope you’ve stashed these funds somewhere other than under your mattress!”
She Was Offended
The treasurer’s startled reaction was instantaneous. She took him literally. The board had to wait through her shocked exclamation about how “I would never put the not-for-profit’s money in a personal account,” how her office handles funds received there a certain way, and how, if she receives checks for the organization at her home, she immediately conveys them to her office to be handled the same way.
She then launched an explanation of how she had chosen the bank to care for the funds while the board decided how to spend them, how she had decided what kind of account the money would be stored in, etc.
Because we were virtual, thanks to the pandemic, it was hard to get a word in edge-wise. Thank goodness the association president was finally able to cut her off so that we could return to the business at hand.
The Two-Pronged Joke Test
The joke was well-intentioned. I know because I know the joker. But there is no excuse for being so out of touch with where you are and with who’s in the room that you hurt someone’s feelings. Or that you offend someone. Or, even perhaps, that you are taken seriously, when, as here, you intended to be facetious.
A quip can be either something said, or something done. It’s “in poor taste” if it satisfies both prongs of a two-pronged test. It must be “offensive,” often because it concerns death or sex or race, and it must be inappropriate to the situation.
Like adhering to a (sometimes unwritten) dress code, there are risqué jokes that you might make at a celebration of life (usually a joyous affair) that you would never make at the same person’s funeral (a more somber event at which one is expected to be in mourning).
Read The Room
That the board meeting joke was “in poor taste” is a subjective assessment, by its very nature. I’ve heard jokes about my own livelihood that I thought were pretty funny, in spite of the bigotry inherent to them. Occasionally, a friend of mine (who is well aware that “I don’t like lawyer jokes”) will repeat a wisecrack about “How many lawyers does it take to….” And I can’t help but laugh.
It’s all about context and familiarity.
Gauge the room before tossing in a joke that might be a grenade. I’ve bitten my tongue more often than I like to admit. These days it’s so easy to offend people. Just look at comedians today. It’s often their jobs to roast people in the news and folks pay to see them . . . . But how often do we see in social media how offended some of those same folks are when they don’t like the specific jokes their comedians tell!
Someone somewhere will always be offended by something you say, no matter what it is, but it’s up to you to be funny and smart about your audience.