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Practical jokes and the law of unintended consequences

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By Larry Simoneaux
I wanted to write this one several weeks ago.
I didn't get to it because the Newtown shootings happened and this one got shelved. Still, I wanted to say something about practical jokes.
I'm just not a fan of them.
The reason is that I'm not fond of embarrassment and, to me, that's pretty much what practical jokes are all about.
Added to this is the uncertainty as to how a person on the receiving end of such jokes will respond. Uncertainty because we can never really know what's going on at any moment in someone else's day -- let alone life.
Are they having a bad day? Did they spill coffee on their favorite suit this morning? Did they just have an argument? Have they lost out on a promotion that they were counting on? Did they just receive bad news from their doctor? Have they recently lost a friend or a relative?
These, or a hundred and one other things can happen at any time and, generally, we're never aware of them.
So, I stay away from practical jokes because -- on a much too regular basis -- I do enough dumb things, unintentionally, that can bruise the feelings of friends and family. What I don't need is to go out and purposely do something that might sound funny to me, but could come off badly and embarrass someone else.
What prompted all of this was the prank call made several weeks ago by two Australian DJs to the London hospital where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for severe morning sickness.
According to the story, "The phone call -- in which they impersonated Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles -- went through, and their station broadcast and even trumpeted the confidential information received. Whatever pride there had been over the hoax was obliterated by worldwide public outrage after (the) death of Jacintha Saldanha, the first nurse they talked to."
Some have speculated that the fallout from the call caused this nurse so much stress and embarrassment that it led to her death. Others have said that this couldn't have been the main cause but, rather, it might've been the last straw in whatever else might have been going on in her life. There's even speculation that the apparent suicide was to reverse the "loss of face" incurred by the prank and "restore" her honor.
Who's to know? The only person who could actually tell us why it ended as it did is gone now -- leaving behind a family that included two teenaged children.
Did the DJs plan for all of this to happen? Of course not. It was completely unforeseen.
Which brings me back to practical jokes -- especially in the age of instant communication. The age of social media. The age when, literally, any and every thing any of us might do or say can, in the blink of an eye, end up in front of the entire world.
And that bears some consideration.
How many of us would enjoy having our less than stellar moments broadcast on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or what have you?
That, in itself, would be bad enough but, then, added to this strange brew of worldwide connectivity are the radio and television "personalities" who revel in pushing the envelope looking for ever larger audiences or the next rating point.
I guess I'm just old-fashioned enough to cling to the idea that there are boundaries that we should try to maintain.
Such boundaries might include considering the propriety of a practical joke before we pull one. Such would include considering whether we might all be better off if, before we went ahead, we stopped for a moment to consider the effect it might have.
I readily admit that not liking practical jokes is purely my problem (I'm the original stick-in-the-mud) and, because of this problem, I play it safe and stay away from them.
For me, doing so keeps possible embarrassment to a minimum and has, likely, saved me friendships that I value far more than the results of an ill-considered joke.
In the situation noted, a single moment's thought and a bit of consideration might also have helped prevent a tragedy.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to:

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