Playful banter or hurtful jibes?
By Mark Hindley, Deputy Head (Pastoral)

Did you know that the word “bantz” entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015? Did you know that the Archbishop of Banterbury has 3.6m followers on Instagram? There is even a website called “Social Confidence Mastery” that promises to teach you “how to banter like a pro”.

All the pupils at Abingdon (hopefully…) know that I hate the word “banter”. To be fair to Social Confidence Mastery their first instruction is to Have Positive Intentions, but too often in the moment this is something that gets forgotten. The reality is that the desperation to be seen as funny – to fit in – to earn the label of being bantz – means that comments soon become poorly judged, and laughing with someone turns into laughing at someone. Yes – when we are on the receiving end, we often laugh along as a defence mechanism, but the problem with banter is that it can very quickly slip into cheap, hurtful, personal comments.

Nowhere can this be more aptly illustrated than in the recent exposure of the “banter” at Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Shockingly, Yorkshire claimed that use of racist slurs such as the p-word was “in the spirit of playful banter”. These incidents highlight one of the essential problems that can occur – that the word “banter” becomes a laddish defence, but once that veneer is peeled away, all you are left with are deep seated prejudices, or insults that leave lasting scars.

It is important that we all learn to joke, and laugh, and have playful interaction with our friends. Having a sense of humour, and sharing stories and wit and jokes is crucial to bonding, but careful of banter…Our advice to our pupils would always be to ask yourself if you would enjoy it if you were on the receiving end of the joke. If you have any hesitation over that question at all, then it’s best to remain quiet and keep things to yourself.

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