By Rebekah Hardwicke | Contributor
I like to joke that I have the spiritual gift of sarcasm, but I have learned the hard way that words have consequences. There are certain things you can joke about with some people that you cannot with others. But there are are other topics you should avoid altogether, because reducing them to jokes is naive and offensive.
Many issues are downplayed to jokes on campus. Especially at a college that advertises itself as "Christian," students need to be sensitive to the situations and people around them. And this is not limited to students; I have heard professors joke about these-specifically mental illnesses. As Christians, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard, even in the jokes we make.
Chances are, anyone who is close to a person who is mentally disabled will never use the word lightly. The use of this word seems to be decreasing as more people become aware of its offensiveness-but many people don't seem to care. Just because it is a habit to call someone or something retarded does not make it okay. Not all habits are good; some are called "bad habits" for a reason.
"Did you forget your medicine today?" is a joke thrown around now and then, but the truth is many people have to take medication-and to them it is no laughing matter. Quick lesson: OCD is more than being organized like Monica from the TV show "Friends," and ADHD is more than losing focus easily. Many people, probably more than you would expect, have struggled with these and other disorders their whole lives, and reducing them to a joke can be hurtful. At the very least, if they hear you making a joke about mental illness, chances are they will never open up to tell you about their own disorder.
Calling people who fit a certain stereotype gay or lesbian limits how you view people who are LGBT-the variety in this group may surprise you. Whether someone has a partner of the same gender or has come out as being gay, we shouldn't make jokes about their sexuality. This is not to be "politically correct;" it is just showing others the same courtesy we would want to be treated with. (Sounds awfully like the Golden Rule, doesn't it?)
I have never understood how rape could be made into a joke. People who kid about rape must not fully understand what it is-if they did, how could they possibly make light of it? In all honesty, you probably know at least one person who has been sexually abused or raped, even if you may not know who that person is. But just because you are not aware of something does not make it disappear (think of a toddler covering their eyes, believing you cannot see them), and we should be especially sensitive to painful topics like this.
Even if jokes do not have a particular effect on the people telling them, it is naive to think that they will not impact anyone. If we really are the school we claim to be, "Christian" needs to be more than just a word-it needs to show in the words we use as well.