Laughing Matters

What we choose to laugh about tells us a lot about the sort of people that we are.  Abraham Lincoln was a president known greatly for his sense of humor–but his sense of humor was not natural, rather it was something he adopted deliberately and tactically, and not to the uniform pleasure of those around him.  We often think of comics as funny people, but comedy is deadly serious business [1].  Far too often comedy is not the resource of those who have a great deal of happiness inside of them but for those who are desperately trying to cheer themselves up for whom life is almost too gloomy to be endured.  As is the case in most things, those who are naturally sanguine take happiness for granted, but humor is cultivated by those who cannot afford to take happiness for granted because there is simply not enough of it in their lives and in their world.  We laugh so that we do not cry–or worse.  Humor is also a defense, in that it takes the sting out of the harsh and mean words that we expect someone else to say.  By turning a sense of humor on ourselves, we try to beat them to the punch, to preemptively take the insults and abuses of others off of the table, because we figure we will hurt ourselves less than other people do.

It is perhaps coincidental that we tend to find both boxers and comics among the same populations.  There are only so many ways that we can win the favor and respect of other people, and we will generally try those approaches that work the best for us given the talents we have available to us.  If we are clever and witty enough to turn a good phrase and to reduce the hostility of others by making them laugh, we will tend to turn our frustrations into comic writing or bits.  Perhaps those bits may not be uniformly funny, and it more than likely many of those bits will be about matters that are highly personal to us and to other people, but all the same comedy is a choice if we trust our brains more than our fists.  If the reverse is true, the frustrations and lack of respect that we feel from the world will encourage us to gain respect by proving our strength.  Of course, nothing prevents us from adopting both options simultaneously.  Again, if we turn to Abraham Lincoln we will see that he was not only known as a retailer of comic and even profane humor but also defended himself once in a duel of honor over some anonymous writing and also was well-known as a powerful wrestler who gained the respect of the roughs of the Illinois prairie during his youth.  Sometimes we do not have a choice of how other people will wish to test us, and it is best to be prepared.

Indeed, there have been times in history where even the most serious regimes have allowed their populace to engage in humor, even of a seditious kind, because it was better than the alternative.  For example, there was a certain class of faux daring jokes in the time of Hitler’s Germany that was laughed at by many, including the Nazi leaders themselves.  Those leaders were certainly foolish and evil men, to be sure, but they were wise enough with regards to an understanding of humanity to know that those who were making sly jokes and thinking themselves brave for doing so were not going to be the people who would plot against them on behalf of their enemies.  Of course, if the jokes got out of hand, the state had the resources to take care of matters and let everyone know the border of what humor would be acceptable to the state and which humor would not, but in practice many leaders have been quite tolerant of humor directed at them because it made them seem like less of a threat, and that allowed people to act according to their plans without inducing others to fear and terror.  What we laugh at we tend to underestimate, and a wise leader is quite content to let those who might disagree with or oppose them underestimate them, because it is far easier to gain an advantage over those who do not respect us enough to take us seriously.

But sometimes people want very much to be taken seriously, and so the humor of others can be a deeply hurtful thing.  As I have noted from time to time, my father was a witty and expansive person who could be trusted to say something cuttingly humorous at dinner parties, of which he was fond.  Not everyone was so amused at the material he chose to laugh about, though, and he was not always sufficiently sensitive to the way in which his words hurt others.  As someone who is both witty and deeply sensitive myself, I have to be careful lest my own dry wit hurt others as much as ridicule and torment has often hurt me.  Knowing how much words sting and how much ridicule hurts, I do not take joy in tormenting others but have a quick enough wit that I have probably kept a few people up late at night trying to calm themselves down enough to go to sleep.  There are jokes I will make about myself preemptively that I would never permit someone else to say about me, simply because I do not tend to trust other people to have my best interests at heart, whereas I do have a fair bit of trust at least in my own noble intentions, however disastrous the results.  I suspect that is the case for most people.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/02/26/book-review-dead-funny/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/01/26/comedy-is-a-choice/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/03/23/comedy-and-the-art-of-the-roast/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/11/book-review-present-laughter/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/01/19/book-review-are-you-a-bromide/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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