Okay, so real talk. I love The Big Bang Theory. It's one of the only sitcoms I can watch on repeat and never get sick of. I think it's because I can see myself in the characters so much. I've always just felt like a big nerd at heart during any point of my life. Naturally, this leads me to connect to most of the characters. I have a love for most things that aren’t “mainstream” and that tend to have a cult following. Sign me up for all comic books, Joss Wheadon, sci-fi, horror movies, anime, and metal (they don’t like metal music, that’s just me).
I've recently started rewatching it again for the third or fourth time. Loving the characters just as much as every time. The one thing that is really sinking in for me this time around is how the characters tolerate Sheldon, and each other for that matter. I first started reflecting on it after my partner pointed out how bitter and mean Penny's comments can sometimes be in the show. She dresses her comments well in sarcasm so the audience frequently overlooks what truly lies at the heart of her sarcastic comments.
Penny's comments are often her defense mechanisms to the inferiority she feels with the rest of the group. As well as her frustrations of course. So after my partner pointed it out, I realized that if you removed the sarcastic tone from a lot of the dialogue from Leonard, Howard, and Raj's comments, they all start to sound as judgmental as the audience perceives Sheldon.
You may be wondering what spin this might be taking on judgments. It's safe to say that all of the characters are pretty judgey of each other. However, they all learn to see past their judgments of each other and learn not to take things personally. This is something we could all work toward improving in ourselves (i.e., looking past our own judgments of ourselves and not taking things personally).
How do the characters see past their judgments? Well, let's look at Sheldon for example. All of the characters judge Sheldon's eccentricities. They adapt to them over time, but they still hold their judgments and comment on them. Think about the first time we hear Sheldon's monologue regarding “his spot." Penny looks at him like he's crazy, and he spends much of the show frequently reminding people that he's not crazy and his mom had him tested.
Later on in the show (like two seasons later), Penny is able to share his reasoning for his spot. She is able to do this by accepting Sheldon as he is. Idiosyncrasies, oddities, and eccentricities all alike. One of the first steps to her acceptance was seeing Sheldon as a whole person. She saw past his eccentricities to see aspects of him that were affable. Penny starts to see that Sheldon is lovable and is a good person at heart. Regardless of how he may come across in various interactions.
All of the characters see his good natured heart and are able to give reasonable explanations (or benefit of the doubt) to his eccentric actions. In other words, the characters
create a conceptualization of Sheldon that allows them to be compassionate. By seeing the whole Sheldon throughout all of the interactions, they become much more tolerant of every interaction they have with him. They all feel more affection for him over the course of time after acknowledging that he has certain personality characteristics that impact his interactions.
If we see people as whole people and not just a series of isolated interactions, we can become way more accepting of a person and their potential flaws. It can be easier
if we try to take a third party perspective. Or better yet, write the experience from the other person's perspective. It will really help you see what might be going on for them.
The other portion of this, or the flipside of the coin is, that people learn how to not take things quite so personally. Sheldon continues to make comments throughout the show that would be extremely hurtful if the other characters took those judgments to heart every single time he said something. For instance, think about how many times he points out Howard's lack of a PhD. There's only one episode (that I know of) where Howard takes it to heart and gets really upset by it. Most of the time, Howard shrugs it off to the best of his ability. He is able to acknowledge that it isn’t a comment he should take personally because if Sheldon really viewed him as inferior as he makes it sound, he would not waste his time with Howard. Howard also has the knowledge that Sheldon can’t filter and tends to have a pretty strong self-bias.
One of the ways every character learns to survive and thrive in the friendships and relationships of the Big Bang Theory is that they stop taking it personally when they hear sarcastic comments. They all feel safe enough to know that what is being said isn't necessarily coming from a place of maliciousness. They understand that they all care for each other and that is weighed more heavily in their thoughts than the hurtful comments.
Think about some of your closer relationships. Do you have family or friends that you can razz or give a hard time to? How would you respond if a stranger gave them that same hard time? One personal example that comes to mind is how I joke about my disability. People that I am comfortable with and feel safe with can joke about me being crippled (I use that term toward myself when I’m joking). If anyone that I’m not close to makes a comment about my disability, regardless of how much they bathe it in sarcasm, I clam up.
When I was in college, I had my roommate Gentri give me a ride to my hometown (approximately 2 hours away) so I could go car shopping with my mom. One thing to know about Gentri is that she has the best dry sarcasm. My sisters, probably being 12 and 10 at the time, weren't the most well-versed with dry sarcasm. Gentri is a person who earned the right to mock my disability with me. Another thing my sisters didn’t know at the time. One of the ways that we would make fun of it is to say I wasn’t actually disabled and that I was making it all up (my disability is passable so most people don’t know unless I self-disclose).
While I was out with my mom, Gentri started to joke with my sisters. She made a comment to them about how I wasn’t really disabled. Naturally, my sweet little sisters became defensive on my behalf and started arguing with her about how I really was disabled and had Cerebral Palsy. They actually got pretty upset with her for those comments. I had to reassure them when I returned home that Gentri really didn’t think my disability was fake.
It just goes to show that when people earn a certain status in our lives, they are allowed to poke fun at our little quirks. We start seeing it as endearing instead of threatening because we feel safe and secure in the relationship. That being said, our lives aren’t a sitcom and we have to realize what lines exist. There are clearly “no fly” zones for each of us where we do take it personally if people poke fun at our quirks or oddities.
An example from the Big Bang? Based on my knowledge, none of the main characters outwardly tell Raj that he sounds gay. They will make statements like “dude, do you realize how that sounds” and indicate that he shouldn’t say certain things. Yet, the core group never calls him gay. We have non-main characters that say they think he’s gay. For the core group of Big Bang characters though, it is viewed as a “no fly” zone. They respect that zone and therefore maintain trust with Raj by giving him a hard time about poking fun at certain comments, but never actually calling him gay.
The people in your life that you allow to make sarcastic comments that are a little close to home are given that privilege because you feel safe enough with them to know that they won’t abuse it. You know that they will be attentive and if they say something that truly hits you right in those feels, they will course-correct. They will reassure you that it was an ill-placed sarcastic comment that they wouldn’t have said if they knew it would be hurtful. That being said, watch out for the fuckers who don’t acknowledge when they crossed a line. You don’t need to take what they said personally, but you might want to evaluate that friendship or relationship. All in all, don’t give someone power over your feelings toward yourself if they haven’t demonstrated that they will treat that power with the utmost concern and respect.
A couple quick reminders for those who like the major take-homes in one easily referable place:
View people as whole people. We all have our own shit that makes us do some not so great things at time. If we were all judged based on our not so great moments, everyone would think everyone else sucked all the time. Try to see the person past the eccentricities or behaviors that you are struggling to deal with. This is the whole don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Another, probably more new age way to think about it is how often do you watch a TV show past the pilot even though the pilot wasn’t the greatest? Or even the first 30 minutes of a TV show or movie? Probably wayyy more than you think. For instance, if I hadn’t stuck with Game of Thrones until the VERY end of the first episode, I actually probably wouldn’t have watched the rest of the series. The first episode until the cliffhanger at the end (no I will not give spoiler alerts for those who haven’t seen it) was pretty slow-going for me. I couldn’t see the hype until that moment. So at least give people the same effort and open-mindedness that you give to TV shows and books. If you aren’t that open-minded about them, maybe you need to sit with that for a minute.
Try not to take things as personally. You know the select few people whose judgments of you might actually matter (and let’s be honest, those select few people aren’t judging you as much as you think they are). If others don’t fall into the group of people that TRULY matter in your life, then water off a duck’s back. You don’t need to carry their shit on top of your own shit. People will try to judge you no matter how perfect you try to come off. You could do everything in your power to do and say the “right” things and people will still try to judge you for it. It says something about them, not about you. Unless they are judging you for a crime you actually committed, then that might say something about you.
Establish your “no fly” zones with loved ones. If one of your people who actually matters is saying something hurtful to you, then be willing to have the hard conversation where you tell them they’ve been hitting a button. Sometimes people aren’t the best at reading what is going on in our minds and need to have it put more bluntly in order to know it’s harmful. Most likely, that person will want to change something when you tell them. They may not know how to change it and may struggle to change it, but it can at least open up an ongoing conversation where they recognize how they may be hurting you when they say certain things. If they don’t and tell you to suck it up buttercup, then maybe revisit the level of importance they hold in your life.
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