Saturday, April 30, 2022 (05:39)

I had an emotional discussion with a friend about whether mockery is good or bad.

Our discussion had been triggered by a comment on Twitter about Varro Vooglaid, a known Estonian controversial society activist. Varro is known to fight for freedom of speech, which is a hot topic in Estonia because some people fear that they would be silenced down if some law would declare statements against same-sex marriage as homophobic hate speech. Varro is one of them. I have no personal opinion about Varro, but I knew my friend to be rather a fan of him. And the comment was a mocking one. It was just a screenshot Varro’s profile page on some social media platform showing his slogan “Sõna on vaba” (“The word is free”) and an message box saying “Varro Vooglaid limited who can comment on this post. The broadcaster chose to apply this setting.”

I liked the comment, while my friend didn’t. She didn’t even get the joke. I had to explain her that it is funny when a famous fighter for freedom of speech gets caught in a situation where he “limits who can comment” on his posts in a social media forum. She exclaimed “It’s unbelievable how evil people can be!” I tried to explain her that mockery is not evil. Mockery humorously depicts a controversy, and as such it helps to get closer to truth. Especially in a controversial dialogue it helps to release tension. Mockery is not basically evil, it is basically good. Of course mockery is also dangerous because it can hurt people. Just remember the Charlie Hebdo shooting. Mockery is a form of provocation: it calls the target (the “victim”) to come out of their bastion and explain the situation. Having to react to a provocation can be disturbing. Eugen Drewermann reacted well to a provocation (Eugen Drewermann about Putin, Covid-19, Jesus and peace) while al-Qaeda reacted poorly.

I remembered that my favourite section of a student magazine in my high school was titled “Charrions-les un peu” (“Let’s carry them a little”), where pupils were invited to collect slips and real-life stories that were embarrassing for some teacher.

It is true that the line between words and deeds is unclear. Words can kill. Matthew 5:22. Mockery can become defamation, it can come at the wrong moment or can be used to deviate from the topic of a discussion.

The question whether mockery is basically evil or basically good seems to be a central question for the Synod on Synodality. And if you had watched my friend and me during our emotional discussion, you would have seen a speaking example of why this Synod is going to be hot.

The Dalai Lama gives an interesting answer: “We view behaviour as harsh or gentle largely on the basis of appearances, but the real distinction depends on the motivation with which it is done.” (via Twitter)

Mockery is a behaviour and as such neither evil nor good. The motivation behind it is what counts.