Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Cry Baby

I was a good value tease at school. You knew you would get a reaction. I wasn't the only one. Aged 12, I can remember standing in a circle of boys chatting when one of them said, 'I am bored, I am going to go make X cry'. About 5 minutes later, X walked past heading for the toilets in tears.

Part of what made me easy to tease was I was 'a little bit brave', and I had a deep-seated belief in right and wrong. I was very serious. I was often holier-than-thou, and more than a tad judgemental. So someone looking for some fun wouldn't have to work hard to get me hot and bothered. 

The face in the mirror

Add to that a tearful nature, and it was game on. Boys didn't cry in Apartheid South Africa. One of my friends has a saying, 'I would cry, but my tear ducts are welded shut by toughness.' A few drops and cries of evidence of your weakness would ring out. I spent a lot of time in the bathrooms, staring at the mirror and splashing water on my face to calm down. 'Stop crying!'.

I find it embarrassing to admit, but when later visiting England, New Zealand and Australia... I felt at home. As an English Speaking Apartheid South African, my world was more tied to the rest of the White Anglo-Sphere than back home. There was no Ntini, Philander, Rabada and Mtawarira to celebrate. Australia felt like a bigger version of the white bubble I grew up in, and culturally I felt like I understood it more than many of the other people who lived down the road at home.

Part of that culture was Banter. I got better at it as I got older. As I dropped the chip on my shoulder, and developed a sense of humour. Most of the time, Banter is good-natured. Teasing isn't meant to end in tears. When a guy has been spending more time drinking than exercising, a good mate is expected to ask him who ate all the pies.

But there is a difference between Banter and being a complete Dick. Banter is good-natured and friendly. It is about intent. You aren't trying to make anyone cry. You are trying to keep things light-hearted and fun.

I still have that 'little bit brave' nature when it comes to someone getting Banter wrong. I feel obliged to stand up to bullies. Even if that means breaking the rules. I also recognise it in the South African teams, politicians, and business people. They tend to rise or fall to the level of the opposition... but a little more extreme. Playing the Kiwis, our rugby players raise their game. Playing Samoa, we get a little harder. Playing the Aussies, I have no doubt 'lines' get crossed.

Banter is fun. I want friends to tell me I am fat when I am looking less likely to fall down a manhole. I want friends to poke fun at me about being excessively tied to arbitrary beliefs. Banter is a form of friendly feedback.

If you don't like the other person, it is probably best to keep your mouth shut.

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