By Cathy Shan (’23)
“Just kidding”. It is a phrase I often hear, usually after someone has said something unintentionally or jokingly. But more often than not, it is said when someone says something rude or unkind to someone, most often about something that the person cares deeply about, as an indicator that they don’t mean what they said.
“That shirt looks bad on you; you should go back to wearing hoodies. Just kidding!”
“Wow. I wouldn’t be eating that if I were you. Just kidding!”
“You got into AP biology? I guess that means anyone can get in now. Just kidding!”
Many people can brush the remark off after that, dismissing the statement as if it were never said at all. But why do I still feel a tinge of pain? Why do their words still hurt me? After all, the person was “just kidding,” right? There’s no need to take it seriously. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive.
But as this phrase gets repeated time after time, is it genuinely non-intentional? Are they saying these things without truly meaning it, like they claim they are?
Or is “just kidding” now used as a feeble defense mechanism to protect yourself from receiving any backlash? By using the words “just kidding,” is it meant to make me feel that I’m weak or too sensitive or that I “can’t take a joke” when I confront you about it?
In reality, “just kidding” is used as an attempt to invalidate the hurt behind an insulting statement, which can be more hurtful than if the remark was said without “just kidding.” It’s meant to disregard the impact of that statement by masquerading the insult as a joke, as something that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. In most cases, the phrase is an indicator that the person who said it also knows that what they said was wrong and is now using “just kidding” to diminish its impact.
Of course, not all instances of “just kidding” have this meaning behind it. Sometimes it is used after light teasing or evident sarcasm. However, there is a clear line between harmless jokes and statements that can truly hurt someone. If you think that something someone says crosses the line of what you think is okay, do not hesitate to tell them so. Explain to them your boundaries or tell them that jokes shouldn’t be used to hurt people. This way, you can prevent potential bullying in the future.
So the next time someone tells you “just kidding”, carefully consider if what they are saying is truly a “joke.”