Pass the Salt?
When is a “joke” really ritualized hazing or bullying?
I worked in a firehouse once where three members decided to place pubic hair in the kitchen salt shakers.
The same crew would also rub their exposed genitals up against anyone they thought they could.
That’s called whipping it out.
The officer-in-charge knew of and condoned the behavior.
Just fun and games?
Depends on how you like your salt, I suppose.
Power, Domination and Submission
We should focus on the behavior and the purpose behind it.
These so-called “jokes” are actually behavior designed to enforce an existing informal social order.
In the example above, the formal leader had abrogated his authority and it was open season.
The “jokers” behavior is dominating in nature and the unfortunate recipients are supposed to submit to their place in the informal group.
It’s primal behavior run amok.
Domination is deeply rooted in many informal group cultures, especially college fraternal organizations; 18 Penn State students were just indicted in the hazing death of a student there.
It’s not necessarily a compliment that we fit well with teenagers.
In our case, it’s often aimed at recruits or those seen as outside the majority clique as a method to enforce the informal power hierarchy.
Out of the Jungle
As we no longer swing from trees, a formal power system has long since replaced the need for ad hoc groups to freelance the imposition of authority through a system of domination and submission.
How odd it is that so many people either defend such behavior or are mystified by its consequences.
If you or your group are behaving towards others in a way that can be reasonably construed as dominating, you are setting foot in dangerous territory.
It’s very simple because every human being knows the feeling of being dominated.
Yes, in this case, the buck does stop at the top.
Leaders and managers who tolerate or condone dominating or coercive behavior are allowing a competing and corrosive form of authority to exist and propagate.
The results are damaged morale and reduced effectiveness and some very hefty legal bills, too.
For me, the best part of being a firefighter was the idea of doing highly meaningful work as part of a close-knit team while also having a lot of fun.
That fun does not have to be dominating in nature or aimed at those perceived as weaker, in fact, if it is, you are heading down the road to ruin–as you should.