Insults Amongst Friends

anger2A few months ago I was going to be a guest on the “Anger 911” radio show. The host of the show, Janet Pfeiffer, is an expert on anger and a TV personality, appearing on such networks as “Fox News,” “CNN,”  “ABC News,” “CBS News,” “Lifetime,” and “The 700 Club.”

scranton baseballSince my interview was coming up, I began to think about what I might say. As it happened, I was able to get some fresh material on dealing with insults because that was the week that my male friends and I went on our annual baseball trip.  We have been doing this for over twenty years, and it involves going to some professional baseball games over an extended weekend.  Amongst ourselves, we throw quite a few insults at each other.  It’s all in good fun, for the most part.

For this year’s trip, six of us left Friday afternoon, traveling about three hours south to Reading, Pennsylvania, to see its minor league team in the evening.  The next day we drove back up north about an hour to catch the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders play.

ham_steak__eggsThe first set of insults that caught my attention was at our breakfast at a Reading diner.  The waitress began to take our orders, and the first few were the usual breakfast fare of eggs, toast, and some meat, either sausage or ham.  Then it was my turn. As soon as the waitress looked at me, pencil in hand, my friends started to perk up and, one said to her, “Oh no, brace yourself, here comes the nutcase.”  Another said to the waitress, “You’re not going to believe this!”

I ordered my usual oatmeal, wholewheat toast, and orange juice, which, to my friends, was hardly proper manly food.  One friend cried out, “Did you bring your flax seed oil with you, for crying out loud!”  Eyes were rolling, and the laughter, catching.  Before long our whole table got a belly load of chuckles out of this line of insults.

Reading_PennsylvaniaA little later, we were walking along the main avenue of Reading, looking at the shops, and one of my friends came over to me. “Jeff,” he said, “I have to say that I love having you join us on our trips because it takes a lot of pressure off of me when it comes to the guys throwing insults around. Before you came with us, I was the main target of insults, and now, I still get plenty, but at least at times the guys are so focussed on insulting you that at least I get a break. It’s amazing that it doesn’t seem to bother you. When it happens with me, it starts to get to me after awhile. How do you manage to always keep so cool about it?”

I replied that, “To me, it’s like water off a duck’s back, and it’s all in good fun.”

But as we continued to walk, I did recall that there was one set of insults that the guys like to throw at me from time to time that does sting a bit.  It involves an incident that occurred about 25 years ago. I had taken my infant child, Jack, for a walk in his stroller.  jewelleryHe had fallen soundly asleep, and as I passed the local jewelry store, I decided to stop in because it was getting pretty close to my wife’s birthday. After looking at a few items, I decided to give it some thought before making a purchase.  My mind was caught up comparing two items in my mind as I began to leave the store, and I completely forgot that my son, who was sleeping silently in the stroller off in the corner of the store, was with me. And so, as I began to leave, someone I knew who happened to also be in the store, noticed I was leaving without my son.  “Aren’t you going to take your son with you?” he enquired with a huge smile on his face. Embarrassed, I quickly thanked him and retrieved Jack.

Well, this story got around to all of my friends, and it began to get incredibly exaggerated, so that in one form of the story, I was half a block away from the store without Jack until someone finally ran me down to come and get him.  And in yet another form of the story, I was blocks away from the store before someone finally caught up with me.

There is no question that I indeed get caught up in my thoughts and therefore forget what the heck I’m doing somewhat more than average, and so I accept a little teasing about this.  But if the truth was told, the story of forgetting my son in the store is something I experience with a little thud in my heart. And so, as I thought about this, I found an increased ability to sympathize with my friend who had, just moments before, shared with me the difficulty he had with some insults, even among his friends.

Later on the trip, I was sitting with another friend in the back of a car, while two other friends were in the the front seats. The driver accidentally went past the left turn he was supposed to have taken, and the guy sitting next to him in the front seat began to throw insults, in a friendly way, at the driver.  “Don’t you know how to drive, you putz!”

If it was me getting this line of insults, I would have just replied with something like, “Oops,” and then just laughed along, but the driver, instead, recalled a time when the insulter had made even a bigger mistake driving.  “Oh yeah,” he cried, “how about the time we were on the fishing trip and you said you knew the way, and then, after a half hour going in the wrong direction, you finally admitted you had no idea where the hell we were?!!”

The bickering over who had made more driving mistakes over the years continued in the two front seats of the car for quite some time until the guy I was sitting with in the back cried out in exasperation, “You two sound like an old married couple.” With that, the two in the front seat banded together to insult the guy who made the old married couple remark. Although it appeared that it was all in good fun, I wondered if there was some underlying discomfort going on.

The next day, as we were heading home, there was some more insults being thrown around, which seemed to be pleasant enough, but at one point, one guy said, “Let’s cut out the insults for awhile, it’s starting to feel like it’s getting a little old.” The guy who had just before thrown an insult at the guy making the request couldn’t help making one more insulting comment, something like, “What’s the matter, baby, you can’t take a little kidding.” The others present, smiled, and then, for the remainder of the trip, we all switched over to a more supportive mode of treating one another.

Upon reflection, I liked what the guy who asked for a break in the insults had said.  He noticed that the insults were beginning to get to him, and he spoke up in a manner that struck me as a respectful tone. And it was great to see my buddies were willing to back off when it became known how at least one of us was beginning to feel.

Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

Bob Dylan On Fools
On Brooklyn Wisdom for Responding to Insults

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.


  1. Don’t intentionally insult anyone.
    You’ve probably insulted them unintentionally enough to last already if you are asking this question.
    Plus children are watching.

    • Hi Mark,
      There is a great deal of wisdom and kindness expressed in your comment. Nevertheless, if the truth were told, among my friends, I do join in with some who are doing some teasing, but I keep a careful watch to do my best to assure that no one really becomes truly insulted. But sometimes you can’t always tell for sure, so perhaps you are completely correct. Still, there is a certain fun and laughter that occurs among my friends when the insults are fun loving that I think many of us would be sad to give up. I’m still in the midst of thinking more deeply about all of this. My Best.

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