THE BLOG
06/10/2014 11:43 am ET Updated Aug 10, 2014

This Magical Sentence Will Change Your Life

Months ago, I wrote an online essay titled, "You're Not Helping: The Sociology of Crap Advice." I would tell you to Google it, but I heard it's a porn site now. Nevertheless, the piece dealt with the useless, condescending garbage advice that insecure people force upon their unsuspecting victims.

I try to live my life without hypocrisy. Hence, I wouldn't give you unsolicited advice unless I truly believed my words to be helpful. Not to pat myself on the back, but it was I who told J.K. Rowling, after reading her first draft, "I think the story would work better if you take out the part where Harry Potter murders the Weasleys."

So I'm confident you will thank me for this advice. You're welcome.

Here's the issue...

During your life, you've undoubtedly been the butt of a Garrett joke. Oh, you've never heard of a Garrett joke? Garrett jokes are named after a girl with whom I went to high school. Her last name wasn't actually "Garrett," but there might be some legal issues with using her real name. Hey, I'm not a lawyer. And I'm already in judicial hot water after violating my restraining order against the cast of Dawson's Creek. (What can I say? I'm a fan.) So I'm changing the term to "Garrett," in honor of Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life, the 1980s TV sit-com, or Wade Garrett, Patrick Swayze's bouncer mentor in Road House. Take your pick.

Lisa Garrett was a school peer. I dreaded conversations with her. Whether the subject was schoolwork or a weekend party or Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook recipes, I knew that a Garrett joke was coming. And while I always expected it, I was never prepared. Sort of like how Dick Cheney's friend must have felt when Cheney shot him during that quail-hunting trip.

A Lisa Garrett conversation included an endless stream of insults, put-downs, and personal attacks. It was like the high school version of my wife's wedding vows. But Lisa framed her mean-spirited comments as "jokes."

See, an insult-joke (or: a "Garrett joke," as it will now be referred) is not really a joke; it's bullying. It's making someone feel bad but with a cherry on a top. And even the cherry tastes like dog poop.

How would you feel if someone angrily burned your house down? You'd feel bad... unless you lived next to that creepy Duggar family with the 45 children, in which case it would feel more like a relief. But if that same person burned down your house with a smile across their face, and afterwards he or she said, "Just kidding," would it make you feel any better? If not, does that mean you can't take a joke?

"Just kidding" is simply another way of saying, "I meant it and now I'm cutting you off without giving you a chance to respond." Tall people know they're tall. They know they're different. They don't want to be reminded of it. "How's the weather up there? Just kidding." I punched you in the face and now you're bleeding. Just kidding!

An insult is not a joke. A joke has a set-up and a punchline. Old-time comedian Don Rickles is famous for his acerbic style of comedy, but Rickles' jabs come with punchlines. There is a cleverness to his wording and his delivery. If Rickles stood on stage and pointed at audience members and said, "You have bad teeth," and "Your job sucks," and "Your shirt is ugly," I don't know, I think his career would've been shorter. And Rickles created this ridiculously angry "character." His fans paid to watch this "character." Off stage, I suspect Rickles is polite and respectful. I bet he doesn't insult his mailman.

A Garrett joke stems from the teller's own insecurity. A Garrett joke is, "I'm superior to you; now let's have a good laugh about it." A Garrett joke is a mean insult. A Garret joke is not a joke. An insult does not become a joke just because you say it's a joke. It's not a joke just because you tell it with a smile. It's an insult. And you're a dick.

Lisa Garrett's personality was to insult people. In regular conversation, Lisa Garrett would throw out Garrett jokes about your lack of success or that you talk too loud or that you're short. Ha ha ha, that's a good one you horrible piece of crap.

I always feel a little uncomfortable with self-deprecating humor that's an obvious defense mechanism. For example, when a man makes a joke about the fact that he's losing his hair, he can't possibly think there is anything amusing about losing his hair. But other people have Garrett joked with him about it. And that made him very insecure because he didn't know how to respond. It made him feel small. So now he figures that if he says something first, he cuts off the jerk's chance to mock.

Don't make self-deprecating comments about your self-perceived flaws. It's sad. Don't let jerks take control over the situation. It's bad enough that we let them take over the NFL, talk radio, and Bruce Jenner's life. Don't let them take your dignity.

A common Garrett joke, more often directed at women, involves snide comments about their weight. I've been present during conversations where someone makes a Garrett joke to a woman about being "skinny." Women don't like being called "skinny," especially when it's in the form of a Garrett joke. Skinny is not a compliment. It implies that she falls outside the category of "normal." Nobody ever calls a woman "skinny" in good fun. Garrett jokes are filled with hurtful, malicious intent. As a conversational voyeur and student of the Garrett phenomenon, I've compiled a long list of things that women are uncomfortable with you "joking" about, including their breast size, relationship status, and that time they hooked up with Bob Saget.

Don't be the butt of someone's Garrett joke. You don't think it's funny? Then why are you pretending to laugh? You didn't laugh during Grown Ups 2, and that wasn't even a personal attack on your appearance, your choices, or your circumstances... just on your comic sensibility.

Garrett jokes are different than "pulling your chain." You know the difference between light-hearted generic teasing and mean-spiritedness. You know the difference between goofing around with good friends and being put on the defensive. While you're driving home, and you start thinking about it more and more, and you get angrier and angrier... that's a Garrett joke.

It's important to have a sense of humor. Be able to take a joke. But don't take an insult.

Here's the advice...

When someone Garrett jokes you, or if they just throw in an unnecessary insult -- about your family or your job and anything else -- that makes you feel bad, don't respond with anger or laughter or silence or passive-aggressiveness.

Simply respond, in a matter-of-fact way, with this magical sentence: "That hurt my feelings."

Isn't that easy? "That hurt my feelings." It's honest, to the point, and it tells your Lisa Garrett, "No. I'm not playing along with this."

"That hurt my feelings." You've just taken your power back. Now you control the conversation.

"That hurt my feelings." You've shown class, and you've maintained your dignity and your composure.

"That hurt my feelings." The person will respond with an awkward, embarrassed apology. And he or she will never insult you again.

This is my best advice. It works. You're welcome.