Accidental Advice

Banter or Bullying: Where do we draw the line?

In the office recently, as we sit, tap away at our keyboards, and edit our designs, there seems to be a bit of banter that flows from desk to desk. I don’t know about you, but I personally hate the term banter, but cannot for the life of me think of any better way to reference it. It’s cutting remarks, from calling the guy that comes in wearing something by Trespass a geography teacher for the rest of the day, or the weird fact that for some reason one of the editors that sits on our advice desk is now known as “planethead”.

Banter goes backwards and forwards, and we all consider each other friends. We know what we like, and at the punchline of each terrible often repeated jokes and shit puns we laugh, make our way down to The Taf, and enjoy a pint together. We debate backwards and forwards about the articles coming through to politics, about conspiracy theories, about the price of VKs and what miscellaneous scandal happened the night before.

There is always a line drawn in the sand in front of us though. Something that moves with the times as we get to know each other better. This unspoken rule of what is actually acceptable to talk about, when we can make these jokes, and what isn’t completely unacceptable between colleagues; between friends. Where is the thin line between banter and bullying?

I remember sitting in an assembly when I was in Year 8, about this exact premise, the idea of banter vs bullying. When does a funny comment about good ol’ planethead become bullying? Is it something that is to do with how well we know the person? Is it an established thing and we slowly push the boundaries, or something that never seems to be fully understood. Back in the assembly in my secondary school we came to much the same conclusion as I do now, that it is all about whether someone finds it funny when you say it or not.

I am sick of someone doing something, getting upset because I didn’t enjoy it, and to be told ‘it’s just a joke mate, calm down’. Maybe I can be oversensitive to some things some times, but as I have said, the line is on what the recipient thinks is funny, not on what the pisstaker does. It’s a tough distinction to find, but if you do push it just apologise and move on, don’t try and dwell on it, and don’t keep pushing the same agenda.

Remember your setting as well. In large groups, or any more than just you and the person you are having this back and forth with, don’t make jokes about the person who is just getting used to it even if you know them really well. It’s that classically done thing of being dragged along to a society event by a housemate, and they treat you like you would anyway, but it is awkward because you are in front of a crowd of people you have never met before. Try not to embarrass your friend in a perhaps misguided attempt to include them, or show off in front of your friends, it isn’t worth it if people get hurt over it.

Here at Cardiff University, we launched an anti ‘campus culture’ campaign called the It’s No Joke back in 2015. Campus culture, or lad culture as it is more commonly known, was the idea of going out and drinking, of violent initiations, and binge drink addled bullying by those in positions of power within their societies or clubs. This is something that we consistently run campaigns on and candidates dressed in pirate costumes yell about, but come a Wednesday evening and the doors to YOLO open, nothing has changed.

And it seems to me that this has come about because banter, drinking, and this potentially harmful back and forth is an intrinsic part of our culture. With students being repeatedly hospitalised for over drinking, fights in club nights at our own Students Union, and the fact that we here at Gair Rhydd write articles about it every year, and nothing seems to change. There is no real accountability for this anymore. We aren’t in school any more, so when someone tells you to chill out because it is just a joke, there isn’t a teacher to run to anymore, or someone you can really address it with, so most of the time we will just sit there, laugh it off, and allow it to happen because we cower at continuous confrontation.

My only advice would be to stand up and talk about it. Don’t be afraid of sticking out and people getting annoyed about it. The few times I have stood up for myself and talked about it, people apologise and we move on (it is almost like we are all grown ups working together on this or something). Mention it, don’t dwell on it, and move on. Life moves faster than embarrassment, and everyone will move past it quickly and be better for it.

This isn’t to discourage the jokes however, if everyone is laughing, then all of this is okay. The pub chat, the inter office banter, the back and forth between friends. Just try not to take it too far, and if you do, be open to apologising so that everyone can move on. If you do feel like you need to talk to someone else about it, call Nightline, or talk to a union representative, such as a society president or club captain. It’s alright to not be comfortable with this behaviour, and okay for you to talk about it, if thats what you need to do.

What do you think about all of this? Or just want some advice of your own? Remember to tweet in, and just #AskAtYourOwnRisk.