I’m grateful for humour. It’s a big part of why hanging out with people is rewarding. It bonds us, lets us step back from hardship for a few moments, brings perspective in the midst of despair, and sometimes, at its best, can build bridges across divides. And it’s just….fun!
(Of course, it can also further divide people, be used as a weapon, or be an avoidance coping strategy that prevents people from facing the reality of their lives. But still….)
We laugh at parties, and after funerals, sometimes during them if the moment is right and it’s in honour of the person we have lost. Humour brings a moment of respite from grimness, and can make us feel like, oh yeah, life is still good, even when it sucks.
Humour is one of the first ways that kids are able to start entering adult dialogue, and even though their jokes make basically no sense at first, they’re still damn funny, and it lets you, the adult, laugh both with kids AND at them… 😉 My students laugh, sometimes out loud, during exams, because I always try to make at least some questions absurd, although still meaningful. After every test, at least a couple of people thank me for the test, and say they actually enjoyed the experience. To me, that feels like a success; if you can turn an exam into something even partly enjoyable, help people who otherwise might be struggling with panic or self-criticism and regret, crack a smile for a few seconds and maybe rally for the next question with renewed energy, then yeah….that’s cool, man….
Humour also helps us think divergently. Which is absolutely necessary for “thinking outside the box.” Which is something I deeply, deeply value. Because, as Einstein or some dude said, you can’t solve problems with the same mindset that got you into them in the first place. And it’s pretty hard to adopt a different mindset if you’re dominated by negativity. Despair, rage, shame, etc., rarely lead to productive problem solving and even more rarely to useful innovations.
And, humour is weird. Like, our bodies convulse, our eyes water, animalistic, guttural noises come out of us, we flail our limbs around, sometimes slapping other parts of ourselves because we just don’t know how else to express the zany energy exploding out of us. We snort, squeal, sometimes fart, and then just laugh harder. ….humans are bizarre creatures, when you really think about what we’re doing in our moments of “meaningful” expression.
But in moments of humour, our weirdness is beautiful too. The very weirdness of the embodied experience makes us vulnerable, but with humour, that vulnerability is relatively safe. (That’s why we should never make fun, or not too much fun anyway…. of someone’s idiosyncratic way of laughing….just enjoy it…..let them be a weird-ass human and feel free for a few delicious moments.)
Humour is even available when you’re alone, lonely, at the bottom. Laughing at the absurdity of your circumstances is better than simply being paralyzed and destroyed by them. It lets you take a step towards transcendence, rising above the muck and shit and pain so you can look down with something closer to a god’s eye view and see the strangeness of it all.
Last night my kids and I watched Life of Pi. Amazing experience to share with them, and we had a really cool convo afterwards about religion & spirituality, existentialism and the ultimate responsibility that free will gives the individual to CHOOSE their response to Reality. It was deep, and awesome. At the end, my son says, eyes gleaming,
“So, imagine you found an Ancient Temple and you read the markings on it and you translated them, and it said “this is the temple that shows you the ultimate Being or Force of all multiverses”. So, you think, “cool!” and you go in to see what the ultimate secret is. You walk into the throne room, and there, on the throne is the secret of all meaning. And it’s……(dramatic pause)……a single chicken tender.”
Perfect existential choice, little guy.