Men in Balance


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A Dilemma: When To “Fix” A Friend

By Tucker Mitchell:

If a friend is too fat for his own good, is it your duty to confront him about it in hopes that you can cause him to (literally) re-form?
The question is easy to understand, but not to answer. For most, it immediately leads to more questions.

For instance, who gets to say how fat too fat is? Is this a close friend? Is he actually suffering from weight-related health issues? Has he brought the subject up? And, do you have, um, uh, room to talk? (Ouch! That last one hurts.)

Thoughts turned to this meaty subject after returning from an all-male outing with friends not long ago. As you might guess, the subject of obesity did come up. Why else would I be thinking about it? As you might also guess, knowing that this is a bunch of men we’re talking about and all, the subject was addressed only in the most indirect of ways. There was no confrontation, just a passing comment or two intended as one of those with-the-boys kind of jokes.

Here’s the situation: On two different occasions over the course of a long weekend, a group member we’ll call “Harry” made a snide remark about the girth of a group member we’ll call “Joe.” Joe is quite overweight – I’d guess he’s packing an extra 100 pounds. Harry, who is older, is no Jack Lalanne, but he’s a big man whose paunch is no larger than your average-sized bowling ball. On neither occasion was obesity or personal conditioning a part of the preceding discussion. The comments – stuff like, “ell, ol’ Joe here sure hasn’t missed many meals, has he?” – were meant to be funny. They were part of that eternal and sacred part of male bonding known as giving each other (grief). Neither line was particularly humorous. Both were awkwardly timed cliches, their clunkiness highlighted by their tenuous connection to the ongoing conversation.

Now some of you may be wondering, who in the world notices stuff like that? Who sits around and analyzes idle conversation or the timing of a hackneyed quip? I don’t know who else does, but I do. Not all the time, but sometimes. This time. Something about these comments hit me. They were out of place, jarring. The only place I’d heard anything like it before was . . . the last time this same general group was together. Harry made the same jokes about Joe then. And before that, and before that, and before that, too.

I don’t know what is going on here. Harry, who I’ve known for years, is a man of extraordinarily high character, a real personal hero and role model in many ways. What is he doing? Is he, in some awkward, don’t-want-to-come-right-out-and-say-it kind of way, trying to goad Joe to action. Or is he just trying to fit in with the group, throwing some (grief) around, but because witty repartee really isn’t his thing, just can’t come up with anything better than a fat joke. Or, does he possess a small, but highly incongruent, mean streak? The last is possible. I have seen some evidence of it before. While quick to all kinds of good actions in his life, Harry has always been slow when it comes to praising others. Maybe this is just part of that.

And so, we come to the real dilemma. Forget about ol’ Joe and his expanding middle for a minute and consider my relationship with Harry. If your friend is hurting another friend with ill-timed, ill-advised fat jokes, should you tell him? That’s not an easy question either, and like my original poser, it spawns still more queries. Is Joe really being hurt? Does Harry know what he’s doing? And, coming from a practicing needler, would this be the case of the pot making a bad joke about the kettle’s blackness?

Don’t look at me for answers. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile and don’t know what to do.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Pondering these external actions had led to some internal focus, which is always a good thing. One conclusion reached is that all my clever zingers, most  of which are intended in the warmest sort of way, may not be received in the spirit in which they are intended. Have I wounded someone at the expense of getting a laugh? Probably. Can I fix that? I can try.

As for fixing others, well, that can wait for another day.

Meaning, CareerJacob Ratliff