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SELF-ARCHEOLOGY
Blog by DARIUS CIKANAVICIUS on Childhood Trauma, Narcissism, and Mental Health

Empathy And Laughing At Othersโ€™ Misery

By Darius Cikanavicius
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A lot of people lack empathy and donโ€™t understand the connection between oneโ€™s past and oneโ€™s present. Based on the world we live in, I donโ€™t think itโ€™s an outrageous statement to make.

Most people lack empathy for themselves, therefore they are unconscious of their own emotions and motives โ€“ and by extension they canโ€™t empathize with others. I often hear people say, โ€œOh, heโ€™s just this weird smelly man.โ€ Or, โ€œHe was such a good boy when he was little, and now heโ€™s so mean, I donโ€™t know what happened!โ€œ Or, โ€œSheโ€™s just a dumb, filthy whore, how pathetic.โ€ Or, โ€œHaha, heโ€™s so stupid! How could he do this kind of stuff, thatโ€˜s retarded.โ€ And so on...

Every person was a child once. However, a lot of people fail to understand that. Since they havenโ€™t processed their own past, they see others as they are right now โ€“ and thatโ€™s it. They canโ€™t comprehend that this person was a child once, and a lot of things happened before (s)he became a person that they are today. They didnโ€™t just fall from the sky being 40 years old and grumpy or stupid, or aggressive, or ignorant, or scared, or promiscuous, or lonely โ€“ or smart, or funny, or creative, or empathetic, or kind. A LOT of things happened before that, leading to the point where they are today.

This โ€œweird smelly manโ€ probably was neglected and abandoned a lot as a child and hasnโ€™t developed proper self-care and social skills, so heโ€™s probably lonely and miserable.

This โ€œmean guyโ€ probably suffered a lot of abuse and control from others in his early and later life; therefore he had to obey and seemed โ€œniceโ€, but actually was very scared and hurt, and his meanness in adulthood is a defense mechanism from a potential attack.

This โ€œfilthy, pathetic whoreโ€ probably didnโ€™t have loving, protecting parents, and was sexually abused, presumably several times; therefore she tries to normalize what happened to her by acting promiscuously โ€“ and, in her own way, tries to feel needed, valuable, and loved.

This โ€œstupid personโ€™sโ€ preferences probably were ignored and he was forced to do stuff that he didnโ€™t like, and he never had a great teacher, and he was punished for making mistakes; so he just gave up and stopped trying, and dissociated from his true emotions, interests and talents.

Trying to understand oneself and others is much harder than just saying, โ€œOh, heโ€™s just weirdโ€ or, โ€œSheโ€™s so dumb.โ€

People who havenโ€™t processed their own life tend to make fun of others, laugh at their pain, put them down, and demean them in various other ways.

This behavior says two things about such people:
  • One: these people feel insecure and unhappy about their own lives.
  • Two: somebody treated them the same way they are treating others and they havenโ€™t processed these horrific experiences.
People laugh at othersโ€™ pain and misery, and demean others because they themselves feel unprocessed pain and are unhappy.

If you understand your own pain, itโ€™s impossible to laugh at other peoplesโ€™ misery or harm others.

Self-archeology leads to self-empathy โ€“ and that by extension leads to more empathy for others, especially for children.

P. S. Empathy doesnโ€™t mean that we necessarily agree with other personโ€™s actions. Empathy means that we UNDERSTAND WHY one acts the way they act. More on that โ€“ in other blog posts!

Support my work by becoming a Patreon subscriber for $5/mo or more and get access to bonus articles. And check out my book Human Development and Trauma: How Childhood Shapes Us into Who We Are as Adults. Thanks!




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Comments

  1. Marc De MeselMay 10, 2013 at 1:17 PM
    Great post! Thanks for sharing Darius.
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  2. Darius CikanaviciusMay 10, 2013 at 1:21 PM
    I'm glad it was valuable to you, Marc!
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  3. SophiaJuly 13, 2013 at 9:54 PM
    I am very glad to find your website, Darius. I am already familiar with the work of Alice Miller, Darlene Ouimet, Daniel Mackler, NVC, and more.

    After reading this post, I thought about how I was treated in my family whenever I expressed feelings as a child. It is something I am going to write about at length in the near future. Nobody saw the abuse and lack of empathy in my family because at first glance my parents seemed like such reasonable, mature, and intelligent people. But when a child is upset and a parent responds to that upset not with empathy but with a sort of "gentle" mockery, telling a child, "Oh, don't be so dramatic," I think this just as invalidating as when they are cruelly teased or even beaten for expressing their feelings.

    And then when that same parent (my father) remarries and brings in a stepmother who is not nearly so gentle, but he always makes excuses for her behavior and tells me that she does it because she "cares" about me... and it takes me decades to realize that it was HE who betrayed me....

    There is something needing to be explored in the not-so-apparent cruelty of the sentimental parent. This was my experience and it has taken me decades to come out of the fog on this.

    Thanks.
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  4. Darius CikanaviciusJuly 19, 2013 at 3:33 PM
    Hi, Sophia, welcome to SelfArcheology.com!

    Thank you for sharing your personal experiences - I'm sorry to hear that you've experienced abuse as a child... It really takes time to recover from the abuse we've experienced in our early life. I'm glad to hear that you're out of the fog.

    Warm regards,
    Darius
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  5. SophiaAugust 5, 2013 at 8:48 PM
    Darius,

    Recently I've been taking a Nonviolent Communication Course to help in learning about what empathy is and how to develop it. It's been a real eye-opener to me to see just how everyone in our culture is taught to discount feelings and needs, their own as well as other people's. Epidemic.

    It's not only people who are usually seen as abusive. Even people who I find to be pleasant enough under most circumstances have never learned how to honor feelings as guides to determining whether or not our needs are being met. I am looking to learn how to share this knowledge with others in such a way that it can improve our society.

    The thing I find missing from the discussion on meeting needs is the question of the early childhood needs that help us to develop into healthy people. Sure, in a NVC setting we can talk about how to learn to meet needs that occur in the present, but they don't really talk about how to heal from and meet needs that we should have had met as babies and children. I would like to help figure out how to incorporate this into NVC discussions.

    Thanks,
    Sophia
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  6. AnonymousMay 8, 2014 at 12:27 AM
    My husband is incarcerated and I am pregnant he has hit me time and time again and thinks it funny to scare me. Total disregard to trama I have experienced and calls me names. I have only been married a short while and I knew how he was before I married him. He has been in and out of institutions since he was 11 he is 30 and did 7yrs in prison. I love him but he abuses me. I'm scared of him. Everyone in his life gives up on him and I try to be the one who stays but I don't want to stay and be abused never understood and I haven't healed crummy last since we have been together bc my problems and issues are nothing to him so my physical mental and emotional state have been abused.
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  7. AnonymousJanuary 8, 2015 at 4:18 AM
    It all makes me so sad. I have a younger uncle that was addicted to crack and when he would try to improve his life others would point out all his flaws. I continually told him that it is his life and that they don't want him to improve because then they have to look at their own lives. He is now sober for going on 8 years. He started using at 13 after being bullied & picked on. People are so cruel and pathetic covering up their own insecurities by intimidating or demeaning others.
    REPLY

      • UnknownDecember 27, 2020 at 11:17 AM
        I would be a hypocrite saying this but I 100% agree. I love looking at my own flaws but I somehow get distracted because it feels like people turn their heads the other way instead of ahead.


  8. AnonymousJuly 8, 2015 at 6:27 AM
    Came across your great little write up after reading about the poor young soul who has just blown his head off using fireworks as a joke. The comments were horrendous. About 80% laughing at him, calling him a moron, talking about Darwinism.

    Found such a lack of compassion and empathy both depressing and puzzling. I haven't self-analyzed as you suggest, yet I can't believe people being so callous to someone who has done nothing to them, and whose death in no way impacts them.

    Tragic. Hope more of the truly 'needy' find your website and consider their actions.
    REPLY



  9. AnonymousAugust 13, 2015 at 9:22 PM
    Completely agreed.
    REPLY



  10. BeRealJuly 13, 2016 at 3:20 AM
    My husband laughs at other people's pain & has shown me a lack of empathy in the past. I've tried many many different avenues to try & get him to realize/understand that that's not the healthy response a husband should be having when it comes to his own wife. I love him & want him to be a good loving husband with healthy respones towards his wife.
    REPLY



  11. art_loverAugust 27, 2018 at 6:36 PM
    It's tragic really! My husband LOVES to laugh at other people's misery! It's his favorite past time. He is very insensitive but acts seemingly sensitive to people he sees a couple of times a year, so if I ever say he was, noone would ever believe me. He is in distress all the time and is on a constant downer (xanax), his life was f'd up for a very long time and he was the black sheep of the family (his family is huge), so maybe that is his excuse. I mean i was raped, beat down, and teased, yet I'm the complete polar opposite to him when he is feeling low. I jump into action and do whatever I can to help, with me he does one of two things, laughs or acts like he is the more reasonable one and I'm just crazy. Sometimes I feel like he loves it when I'm down because he seems to rejoice when any of his exce are doing badly, so it seems like this is a natural pattern for him with his lovers. No matter which way you bring up a proper mechanism of communication, he either tries to not talk about it or just gets furious.
    REPLY


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The term Misery loves company is all over the place for a reason. Recognizing when someone is trying to do that is sometimes hard. Esp for people that have good intentions and want to be helpful.
 

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I mean sometimes some people are kind of just blank inside on the empathy area so they seem fine and nice and all but don't even have any thoughts on the subject of other people's feelings. those people are not evil or cold, just their brains simply don't even process the subject of other people's emotions, and these people probably know that they should make others feel better in times of their negative feelings, but they don't do it out of pity, rather just that they know the fact that if someone feels good, they don't feel bad, and they also know the fact that feeling bad is a bad thing. It's a complicated subject, and I fear that a lot of people will misunderstand this comment, so please try to picture an innocent man with the empathy portion of their brain missing, but they know how to seem normal, and they think they are, and they're normal in morals and goodness-level, but... you know.
This is really hard to explain without an entire bookful of pages to write in, but still, please try to not misunderstand this, it's important.
Something these people may show is their lack of smiling or any such other emotion while near someone who is experiencing intense and/or obvious emotion. But I'm not completely sure about that.
 
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I mean sometimes some people are kind of just blank inside on the empathy area so they seem fine and nice and all but don't even have any thoughts on the subject of other people's feelings. those people are not evil or cold, just their brains simply don't even process the subject of other people's emotions, and these people probably know that they should make others feel better in times of their negative feelings, but they don't do it out of pity, rather just that they know the fact that if someone feels good, they don't feel bad, and they also know the fact that feeling bad is a bad thing. It's a complicated subject, and I fear that a lot of people will misunderstand this comment, so please try to picture an innocent man with the empathy portion of their brain missing, but they know how to seem normal, and they think they are, and they're normal in morals and goodness-level, but... you know.
This is really hard to explain without an entire bookful of pages to write in, but still, please try to not misunderstand this, it's important.
Something these people may show is their lack of smiling or any such other emotion while near someone who is experiencing intense and/or obvious emotion. But I'm not completely sure about that.
People who lack empathy don't have empathy because their brains don't process other people's emotions, and they don't process emotions at all. These folks are aware of others' feelings yet are unable to comprehend them.

They are also unsure of how they feel. It has to do with growing up in an environment where their parents disregarded or did not address their feelings maturely. So they have no empathy or compassion for the emotional pains of others because as a child their own pains and emotions where all ignored as they were growing up.
 

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๐—˜๐—บ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐˜† ๐—”๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐—Ÿ๐—ฎ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—”๐˜ ๐—ข๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜€ ๐— ๐—ถ๐˜€๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜† "๐—œ ๐—น๐—ฎ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต ๐—ฎ๐˜ ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ฟ ๐—ฃ๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ป" ๐— ๐˜‚๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ต๐—ฎ

Why would anyone laugh at someone slipping on a banana peel? I'm not so sure about this lack of empathy thing.


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I'd say if you see the above, you might know full well what that encounters. You can see it. Perhaps you identify with it. It could happen to you. If it did, it would be embarrassing. You laugh because it is embarrassing if that were you. The laugh represents the difference between it happening to you and not happening to you. The problem is the other person is hurting. Perhaps you don't see their pain because you already live a life with that pain. You don't see your own pain.
 
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๐—˜๐—บ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐˜† ๐—”๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐—Ÿ๐—ฎ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—”๐˜ ๐—ข๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜€ ๐— ๐—ถ๐˜€๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜† "๐—œ ๐—น๐—ฎ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต ๐—ฎ๐˜ ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ฟ ๐—ฃ๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ป" ๐— ๐˜‚๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ต๐—ฎ

Why would anyone laugh at someone slipping on a banana peel? I'm not so sure about this lack of empathy thing.


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I'd say if you see the above, you might know full well what that encounters. You can see it. Perhaps you identify with it. It could happen to you. If it did, it would be embarrassing. You laugh because it is embarrassing if that were you. The laugh represents the difference between it happening to you and not happening to you. The problem is the other person is hurting. Perhaps you don't see their pain because you already live a life with that pain. You don't see your own pain.
Yes that's it! :)
 

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Perhaps you don't see their pain because you already live a life with that pain. You don't see your own pain.
Yes that's it!
There is a variation to that. A person's reaction to another's pain can get heavier duty. One can develop a policy to deliberately not have empathy. That is, separate what once might have been empathy. One can become glad or happy it isn't oneself who is suffering. I suppose there are lots of variations.

Take this simple one. A soldier shooting up close the enemy in combat. Self-defense. One will be happy to see the other is stopped via their death. Regrets can come later. Or one's fellow soldiers can even offer support saying you were right to terminate another.
 
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๐—˜๐—บ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐˜† ๐—”๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐—Ÿ๐—ฎ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—”๐˜ ๐—ข๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜€ ๐— ๐—ถ๐˜€๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜† "๐—œ ๐—น๐—ฎ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต ๐—ฎ๐˜ ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ฟ ๐—ฃ๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ป" ๐— ๐˜‚๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ต๐—ฎ

Why would anyone laugh at someone slipping on a banana peel? I'm not so sure about this lack of empathy thing.


View attachment 888392

I'd say if you see the above, you might know full well what that encounters. You can see it. Perhaps you identify with it. It could happen to you. If it did, it would be embarrassing. You laugh because it is embarrassing if that were you. The laugh represents the difference between it happening to you and not happening to you. The problem is the other person is hurting. Perhaps you don't see their pain because you already live a life with that pain. You don't see your own pain.
It also seems kind of ridiculous and absurd. It doesn't look realistic.

I've never slipped on a banana peel...I saw a guy trip over something the other day and I had to run and help him. I didn't laugh, but later we did laugh about it together when he joked about how much worse it could have been and how random it was.

So the laughing later was a way of confronting a negative situation and somehow coming to peace with it? I thinkit made him feel better.

 

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It also seems kind of ridiculous and absurd. It doesn't look realistic.

I've never slipped on a banana peel...I saw a guy trip over something the other day and I had to run and help him. I didn't laugh, but later we did laugh about it together when he joked about how much worse it could have been and how random it was.

So the laughing later was a way of confronting a negative situation and somehow coming to peace with it? I thinkit made him feel better.

I remember that part from the book. I should prob watch the movies :unsure:

I tend to laugh at most all things- verses expected response. shrugs That may relate to the underlined?

I think people are humorous whether that be intentional instigators(not always) or just straight up blunt and most people will not say whatever it is ~they said. Not someone being hurt though. I do think we are in a time where everything is hyper-sensitized by society and people take things tooooooooo seriously/personally and try to police others. ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™€๏ธ

Idk if that is life experience on my part and lack of it on others? A lot of people tend to think everything is the end of the world or deserves/provokes heated responses.
 

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Daddy! I recognized you and your happy smile straight off. How thoughtful of you to post your image right here on Personality Cafe. Kiss Kiss. I'm so proud to be your son. Let's get together on Father's Day.
 
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I remember that part from the book. I should prob watch the movies :unsure:

I tend to laugh at most all things- verses expected response. shrugs That may relate to the underlined?

I think people are humorous whether that be intentional instigators(not always) or just straight up blunt and most people will not say whatever it is ~they said. Not someone being hurt though. I do think we are in a time where everything is hyper-sensitized by society and people take things tooooooooo seriously/personally and try to police others. ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™€๏ธ

Idk if that is life experience on my part and lack of it on others? A lot of people tend to think everything is the end of the world or deserves/provokes heated responses.
edit: Sorry--I sort of went on a tangent there, because I've been thinking about this lately.

tldr: I think it's about intention--like if you are intending to hurt someone vs. not.

 

The hard part for me, that I'm learning lately, is sometimes it's not easy to tell if someone's getting hurt or unhappy by a joke.

Because if I'm not approaching it from their perspective/knowledge base, then I probably haven't got any idea.

I think these can take the form of:

Inside jokes at the expense of someone. Like say...some catty or unkind remark about someone that onlookers might not know was about them, but the person who is the subject does know (or they do not).

Jokes that trigger--like if someone has had a negative experience or faced a threat, and I didn't realize they were getting thoughts brought up from a joke.

Or

Jokes that are deceptive--like they are actually mean spirited (similar to the first--inside jokes) but I guess they are about larger groups of people...like I used to not be able to recognize antisemitism at all, since there are a lot of dog whistles that if you're not an antisemite, you don't see...or possibly, if you're not someone who's been the victim of antisemitism, you don't see.

BUT all those really have to do with intention and circumstance, and I do think they get over-thought sometimes now. Like comedians jobs have always been hard because there's such a fine line between taboo topics that need some release (sometimes it CAN be race, gender, abuse etc.) and not like re-offending.

So I greatly admire comedians who are brave enough to try to walk that line.

I am pretty empathetic and so I feel terrible if I was to accidentally hurt someone without meaning, but I think it's also important to just look at someones intentions. I'm going to be far less offended or hurt by someone making a joke about at topic I felt sensitive about, than someone like actually trying to attack me with a joke. You know?

And I really do think we need to consider intentions, but that's hard because you don't always know someone's intentions...only they do.

But I am trying to be more sensitive--at the same time I also sometimes just need to lighten up and be free...I think it's super freeing to be around someone who really knows you well, knows you enough to know your intentions, so even if you do make a colorful joke, they will know you're not trying to be malicious. It makes it so much more comfortable.

So idk--I really do dislike hurting people or seeing people hurt, and I like humor because imo it has the capacity to heal, to let off steam, to allow us to stop being so serious.

Even venting has to happen sometimes too--but ideally, minimizing unwanted harm from it is probably best too...which is why a lot of people vent in private.

I feel like people try to catch other people saying inappropriate things, which is problematic for comedians because they almost always have to say something inappropriate, because it's part of humor.


It's a tricky art for sure though--maybe one take away is I can appreciate comedians more, and the amount of skill and balance that's got to go into telling inappropriate things in public without getting one's self in trouble or offending people. LOL

I mean, there are people who do intend to offend or harm.

And there are also people who frequently see offense where it's not intended.

And then there is most people who I don't think really want much to do with offence or being offended. They just want to be silly for stress release and to help people relax in a world full of serious things that are hard to relax around.
 

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The hard part for me, that I'm learning lately, is sometimes it's not easy to tell if someone's getting hurt or unhappy by a joke.
I'm a person who is fond of theory and I look for generalities. Try this: A joke is a joke because of the energy generated by two contrasting perspectives. My #11 is a joke. Because there is more than one perspective it is impossible to clear the meanings for everyone. I'd claim of necessity someone somewhere is going to be offended or hurt. Comedians have to be very skilled to minimalize this hurt. There is no reason why my #11 couldn't offend someone somehow somewhere even though I didn't want to. It's easy to overlook offense if one is eager to get across the joke.
 

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I'm a person who is fond of theory and I look for generalities. Try this: A joke is a joke because of the energy generated by two contrasting perspectives. My #11 is a joke. Because there is more than one perspective it is impossible to clear the meanings for everyone. I'd claim of necessity someone somewhere is going to be offended or hurt. Comedians have to be very skilled to minimalize this hurt. There is no reason why my #11 couldn't offend someone somehow somewhere even though I didn't want to. It's easy to overlook offense if one is eager to get across the joke.
Oh--well I had known people who had their family laugh at their pain, and felt really hurt by it, so it actually reminded me of them expressing that to me.

But who knows? Because they might look at that and sort of relate with it, but find a funny contrast--like you wouldn't want to see the father on fathers' day if he was like that...because that's absurd.

I think humor also sort of relates to us sometimes...but I don't really relate to that joke. If anythng, it just makes me feel sort of worried about other people.

Indeed--comedians have a difficult job, and even among the most popular comedians, some people will just not find them funny or will be offended by them, while others may not find them offensive at all or may find them hilarious.

And then to me, it's probably related to mood too. Like I am just feeling kind of sensitive after writing the last reply, and thinking of how people could accidentally feel hurt by jokes.

I guess it's based on an assumption that others around share your values too, perhaps, which would cause people to be more relaxed. So I imagine comedians really have to build rapport with audience too. Maybe even a little bit of trust is involved, which is why comedians often make self-depreciating jokes that show their own vulnerabilities and weaknesses?

I mean, the guy slipping on the banana peel...we probably know he's the comedian and he's doing it on purpose...it's make believe.
 

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Then there are also "inside jokes." Ethnic jokes. Making fun of ethnic supposed eccentricities. I have a pile of bookets somewhere in a closet of "black jokes", "Jewish jokes", "Polish jokes" and I forget what. I should search for them. The question would be, are they offensive to the respective peoples or are they making fun of themselves?

Jokes are supposed to point out the contrast. If one is laughed at, one is supposed to find a way to desensitivize and laugh at oneself.
 
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Show me a joke that appears to be totally inoffensive. I'll bet someone somewhere can find something offensive about it.
 
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