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On Tuesday, we explored “The ‘Fun’ of Focusing on Others’ Failures” and yesterday we discussed “Why We Focus on Others’ Failures.”
I’ve saved this particular Facebook comment for today because it hit so close to home for me:
“There aren’t many times when someone says, ‘Just kidding’ that it doesn’t hurt. It may bring up a flaw in the other person or maybe a situation that they would rather not bring up.
If there is a line between [teasing and bullying] it is very fine, and most people cross it. Some cross it on purpose for their own sad satisfaction and others because they just are not thinking.”
Reading this forced me to face one final hard-to-admit reason I love bearing witness to others’ foibles:
This reason is reserved for people who have dared correct or criticize me.
I wait–often in eager anticipation–for my turn to return the favor.
My husband is the most frequent victim caught in my crosshairs.
- He comments that he’s embarrassed by how dirty my car looks? I quickly find a way to work his most recent speeding ticket into the conversation!
- He argues with me about the “correct” way to pronounce a word? I pull out the helpful list I made of all the punctuation errors in his PowerPoint slides at church last weekend!
- He criticizes sensitivity? I counter with the flaws of rationality!
Playing the Payback Game
Back and forth we go.
It’s a never-ending game.
No one wins.
Daniel’s motives are far more neutral than mine. He’s an Analytical/Amiable personality, so it’s natural for him to critique.
I, on the other hand, am Expressive/Driving. My reaction to criticism (actual or interpreted) is retaliation out of piqued pride.
The Children Join the Game
Our children picked up the payback pattern at a tender age.
When we first saw The Incredibles and started quoting our favorite lines (yes, we’re the Gregory Geeks!) Daniel got tongue-tied and said, “Would you like some more mee-moo-sa?” instead of “Would you like some more mimosa?”
Oh, how the kids howled with laughter, first when he flushed red and then as he continued to pronounce it incorrectly, no matter how many times or how hard he tried to get it right.
To this day, asking, “Would you like some more mee-moo-sa?” is one of their favorite ways to needle him after he’s said something they perceive as critical.
The Goal of Payback
When I watch my children do this, I see in all of us an unspoken goal:
When someone close to me criticizes me, I want them to admit to us that they, too, have weaknesses. That even though they pointed out my imperfections, they recognize that they haven’t arrived yet, either.
What I’m seeking is empathy.
Brene Brown says that the two most powerful words when we’re in a struggle are “me too.”
When others don’t show me their own failures voluntarily, it’s so tempting to force their hand.
To shove their failures in their faces as if to say, “See? I’m not alone, here!”
The Problem With Payback
But that doesn’t create connection between us.
Never once has Daniel responded, “You know, Sweetheart, you’re so right! Now that you mention it, me being embarrassed by your car is absurd. What I should really be feeling embarrassed about is getting that speeding ticket that cost us…”
And he never will!
Instead of creating connection, pursing payback causes something ugly within me:
Which is the exact opposite of connection.
Which makes me very very alone, here.
Which is where I always end up when I follow my own self-ish instincts rather than God’s plan.
How Does Family Treat Family?
Philippians 2:3-4 lays out an action plan that can help us mean not to cross the line from having fun to becoming a bully and help us say “no” to playing the payback game:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests
but each of you to the interests of the others.”
These general principles are applied specifically in this wise advice from one of my Facebook friends:
“Harmless teasing and just playing around is when you can laugh at yourself. It becomes bulling and harassment when you do it to others. Plain and simple.”
- In what relationship(s) do you find yourself tempted to play “the payback game”? What healthier way(s) could you seek connection instead?
- Purpose to say “no!” to the payback game this week! (Click to Tweet this.)
Read The Rest of the Series