Humour : A Saving Grace

"A good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than any other one thing." - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Recently, I texted a friend to forward an email address to me. She promptly replied that her PC crashed. “I am sorry,” I responded, tongue-in-cheek. “I hope you are not hurt!” In a jiffy, she replied, “You misunderstood me; there is no physical crash. I mean to say that I cannot email you because the system is not functioning.”

Some of us are very intense. We take everything rather too seriously and we often miss a jocular moment. We can be very hard on ourselves and we go about life with a perpetual frown as we struggle along with an albatross around our neck.

The good book says, “Laughter is good medicine.” In fact, there is enough evidence to suggest that to bolster immunity, relieve stress, and alleviate pain, we need to laugh a little. As Laura Wilder says, "A good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than any other one thing."

It is true that every cloud has a silver lining. It is a matter of having a positive mindset. I believe we will feel so much better about life if we can see the humorous side of every situation we find ourselves in. There is always a lighter side to any problem.

In reviewing John Lancaster’s book, IOU: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, Garner referred to the enormous cost of the financial bailouts – a whopping US$4.6 trillion. That number is bigger than the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the Apollo moon landings, 1980s savings and loans crisis, the Korean War and the total cost of NASA’s space flights added together! There is a great deal to cry about. But Lancaster, Garner pointed out, is able to find so much to laugh at ourselves even in such a mega-financial crisis. “Before you cry,” Gardner advised, “Pick up IOU. Great humour and good company will be the things that’ll get us through.” Humour is the saving grace if we know how to laugh at ourselves.

That is why books on humour are so popular and there is a constant stream of humorous stuff circulating in the cyber world. In my personal library, I have a collection of joke books, and I do enjoy reading them when I needed a little lift. For many years, I was a subscriber of Readers’ Digest and without fail I would devour the humour pages. I also enjoy comic strips from Peanuts to Blondie and Hagar the Horrible. I used to collect Lat and Sun Tan in the good old days was my favourite Asian humour.

Yes, I do like humour especially if they enable me to laugh at myself and help me to take myself less seriously. But there is one category of humour that I do not enjoy or wish to participate in. It is called disparagement humour or humour that puts people down or makes a marginalized group look silly. These include jokes that disrespect religious beliefs, stereotype people groups, and are racist or sexist in nature.

Sexist jokes are not just offensive for some studies have shown that they induce unacceptable sexist behaviour. Apparently, there is a link between the enjoyment of sexist humour and physical, emotional, sexual and relationship aggression in men. Similarly, racist jokes also induce those who participate in them to have in a racist manner.

So what has humour and laughter to do with an examined life?

Well, for one thing, when we laugh, our eyes sparkled and there is a wave of liveliness that sweeps over our senses. I have had the joy of laughing till I teared uncontrollably and it left me feeling very much alive. It helps me get in touch with my “fun-self” and gives me permission to let my hair down. I feel so very human for genuine laughter does not care about superficial dignity and releases me from my “uptightness.” Hugh Sidey expressed it well when he notes that “Joy in one's heart and some laughter on one's lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life."

More importantly, laughter is an indication that I am able to discern the important and serious from the frivolous and funny. As Christopher Morley said, "Humor is perhaps a sense of intellectual perspective: an awareness that some things are really important, others not; and that the two kinds are most oddly jumbled in everyday affairs."

At a deeper level, “Humor is the contemplation of the finite from the point of view of the infinite” writes Morgenstern. To be able to laugh it off, in one sense, is to be able to let “passing things pass.” It is the blessed ability to see all things in perspective so that one does not get clawed too deeply in finite issues that have no ultimate or infinite implications.

So, I say, with American black poet, Maya Angelou, “laugh as much as possible, always laugh. It’s the sweetest thing one can do for oneself and one’s fellow human beings.” And, if I may add, don’t forget the old adage, which is mostly true: “Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone.”


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