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Malice in the garb of ‘just kidding’ is uncalled for

Shilpa Bhasin Mehra
Filed on September 7, 2021
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I searched for the best definition of this phrase and really liked this one.


I am often asked how I think of the topics that I write on. The answer is simple, just look around. People, events, emotions and life in general teach us so much. During the last six months, I interacted with more people than I usually do (observing all safety protocols). People fascinate me, because each person is so different. The fact that we need to give our finger prints and (Retina test too at some places) for identification at airports is enough proof that each of us is indeed different and hence an individual in our own right.

One comment I heard quite often was “Just kidding”. I gave it some thought and have some observations on the same. I searched for the best definition of this phrase and really liked this one. “Used by someone as a way to soften a direct insult by saying it was just a joke, although the person doing the insulting still means the insult after the Just kidding! has been said.”

The issue I have with this comment is be straight forward. If you want to say something to me, say it plain and simple. If you want a crack a joke, please do so, we can do with some laughs. But don’t mix the two. You want to convey a message, go ahead but then don’t hide behind the just kidding comment. The people who use this a lot are definitely not the ones who call a spade a spade.

I noticed that someone passed a comment and if the other person didn’t react to it, the comment stood. There was no kidding about it, it was meant. But if the person who was at the receiving end of the comment, retaliated in some way, could be a simple what do you mean, the person backtracked with I’m just kidding. Why? Stand your ground. If you don’t have enough to support your comment, then please refrain from passing the comment. It’s that simple.

Being a lawyer, we don’t have the luxury of using this comment and getting away with it. Our thoughts and words are well thought and chosen. But that surely doesn’t mean that others can pass any random and often unpleasant comment and get away with it by adding I’m just kidding. The quality of conversation is poorly reduced when such comments are thrown in. One is not sure what to believe in and how genuine is the conversation.

I am a fan of humour and truly enjoy jokes and wit. But not when mean comments are disguised (or tried to be disguised) in the pretext of humour. Did I laugh? Was it funny? No it wasn’t. In fact, the people who use this comment often don’t realise that their credibility and genuineness is affected by this.

There are light moments, when this comment really goes well, like leave some cake for me. You can feel the joke in the comment and no one feels bad. It’s just a good laugh. In conversations just like in life, it matters who is saying it and reference to context. With some people, we don’t feel bad, because love and care overflows there. But that doesn’t give others the same liberty. In law, we have the fundamental principle of “equality amongst equals”. You have to enjoy the same equation with the person, to say the same comment. No two relationships are ditto, so please don’t take the same liberties.

Today, offensive humour that we consume on social media has become part of our everyday conversations. We have a “JK generation”, where hate speech has become normal under the cover of humour. The phrase “just kidding” has become the new garb to cover-up hostility. To get away with being mean, all you have to say is that it was just a joke. So, where is the line when it comes to separating good humour from bad humour? It’s important that we begin to understand why sometimes it’s not OK to be “just kidding!”

So how should you deal with people who like their laughter with a slice of malice? I would confront uncomfortable humour situations and start a conversation with such person. Nine times out of 10, that conversation will change and the topic dropped.

It is fun to laugh with, rather than at others because sometimes “just kidding” is no joking matter. So, kid me not!

Shilpa Bhasin Mehra is a legal consultant based in Dubai and the founder of Legal Connect.





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