Thoughts on pranks and the Platinum Rule

CNN is reporting today that a hospital nurse in London has apparently committed suicide after being duped by a radio DJ prank that garnered international attention.

I don’t like writing about suicide, because I always worry that stories of suicide can inspire similar behavior in other depressed people. So let me start off by saying this: If you are feeling depressed and having thoughts of hurting yourself for any reason, PLEASE TELL SOMEONE AND GET HELP. Services like the Hopeline are available all over the world; there’s always someone you can talk to, even if you don’t realize it.

Self-harm is never the answer. But that said, if the news stories are true, it serves to highlight a very important issue that I wish more people understood: Pranks can be very harmful, and not everyone can just “laugh it off.”

Personally, I hate pranks. I don’t like being pranked, and I don’t like watching others get pranked. I always feel a sense of humiliation for the other person, because I know that’s how I would feel in their place.

But everyone is different. I have some friends who love that kind of teasing. They love prank TV shows and eagerly look forward to April Fool’s Day. They love fooling others, and they love to be fooled. When someone manages to trick them with a prank, they find it funny.

If you hate pranks like I do, you might think my prank-loving friends are insensitive and cruel. They’re not. They just love to laugh, and they believe everyone ought to be able to laugh at themselves. By contrast, if you love pranks, you might think I’m humorless and uptight for not liking them. I’m not. I love to laugh, too, and I often make jokes at my own expense. (Just read some of my past blog posts for proof.)

But, again, we’re all different. Some of us are more easily wounded than others. Most of us have insecurities, but we’re all insecure about different things, and we experience and handle that insecurity differently. For some people, becoming internationally famous for being pranked might be the story they’d tell over and over again, laughing about it and reveling in the attention. For others, having that happen even on a small local scale would be so devastating as to drive them to contemplate or attempt suicide. And if you’re one type of person, it’s no good to tell others that they should be more like you. We can’t all laugh it off. We’re not all built that way.

Jesus’ “Golden Rule” is that we should treat others the way we would want to be treated. But sometimes we misunderstand what that means. If you enjoy being pranked, it can be easy to assume that others do too—or that if they don’t, they should learn to. Wouldn’t pranking others then be doing unto them what you would want them to do unto you?

That’s not what Jesus meant, of course. And it’s led some people to talk about a so-called “Platinum Rule”: Do unto others as they would do unto themselves.

In truth, it’s not really a new rule. It’s what Jesus meant by the Golden Rule. I should treat others with the kind of respect and understanding I’d want to be treated with, and that means understanding what they like and what they feel and acting accordingly.

Following the Golden Rule (or the Platinum Rule, if you prefer) means that I should treat you based not on what I like, but on what you like. Do you love being teased? Then I should find ways to tease and joke with you to make you smile. Do you hate being teased? Then I shouldn’t tease you, even if it’s something I’d want you to do to me.

On my birthday, I love going out to a restaurant and being surprised by the waitstaff’s singing or bringing me a free dessert. It’s a little embarrassing, and I pretend not to like it, but I really do. Meanwhile, one of my best friends hates it. He finds it actually humiliating. So I don’t embarrass him on his birthday, and he’s free to embarrass me on mine.

On the other hand, I hate being pranked. Hate it. I feel humiliated and insecure and can’t seem to shake the feeling, even after days or weeks or months. Please don’t prank me just because you enjoy it and then tell me it’s for my own good, so I can grow thicker skin or learn to laugh at myself. Please respect me and my feelings, and save your pranks only for people you know well enough to be sure they’ll be okay with it. In return, I’ll do my best to treat you the way you want to be treated, because that’s what Jesus would have me do.