This may sound weird to readers of this blog and those friends of mine close enough to have experienced the full brunt of my sense of humor, but even they'll probably admit that I'm a pretty good judge of what to make fun of and what should stay off limits. After all, I really only mock my friends and, for the most part, they're still my friends. I had a couple of friends in middle school who were not so kind in their ribbing. I drove one to attempt suicide and punched the other one in the face for stealing a french fry. I think it's reasonable to assume that my friends would treat me the same way if I were being an asshole to them.
Unfortunately, my ability to empathize with others and occasionally see myself through their eyes leads to some unhealthy behaviors. For one, I can remember every time I've ever accidentally offended someone and these memories will resurface at random times causing me to involuntarily and physically recoil in disgust. Seriously, I'll be sitting on the couch next to my wife watching Good Eats when I'll flinch from a flashback to that time a year ago when I told her dad that the shirt he was wearing made him look like a wicker cabinet.
That memory is actually a true story and I wasn't even trying to be funny. The pattern on the shirt was very much the interwoven bands of a basket. Unfortunately, I'm so much a nice person that I didn't even realize that this was so obviously a crack about the guy's weight. He didn't respond positively or negatively to the remark, but the comment has made me cringe ever since.
What's worse is when I have a conversation with someone and then come away with the feeling that I've somehow offended them even though our topic was something entirely innocuous like cheese or the best way to brush a cat's teeth. This one really bugs me. It doesn't happen with people like my wife or closest friends, people with whom I'm close enough to know that a slight slip won't ruin their opinion with me, but it does happen regularly with my mom for some reason, which is weird. The woman has listened to me rant on politics, religion, and society for fifteen years now and never criticized. She'd occasionally offer a differing opinion, but it was always logical and just part of a civilized debate, never critical. Why would I worry about what I say to her when I know I'm not going to be mean to her? Still, I often leave social situations with people with a vague sense of dread that I've said something that hurt their feelings. Why is it so hard for me to leave a conversation, especially those in which I was fully involved and interested, without feeling directionless guilt?