Humour is interesting in how it offers us a unique way of processing things, but at times it can also act to ‘stop’ reasoned and important conversation. At what point does that become too much of an obstacle?
The ways humour serves as a release, a way of communicating indirectly and forging human connections over complex realities is really quite beautiful. We all know that life is often contradictory, dark, frustrating and seemingly irresolvable, and laughter can create a bridge across that unspoken knowledge. It lets us bond over the inexplicable aspects of our existence, where laughing about it can seem the most sensible response.
It’s so fascinating in terms of thinking itself: that our intellect can both engage deeply with reality yet hold it in a lighter and much more socially enjoyable space of recognition. It almost seems part of the human condition in the sense that we flit between disaster and release, between the currents of lightness and dark (see Notes One). As intelligent creatures, humour seems to let us walk both paths.
In a way, it seems the flipside of anger. Anger being the place where we erupt more in response to what we see around us (Note Two). As explored in that post, anger often alerts us to what matters and to the injustice we see in the world; a personal reaction of attacking and seeking to destroy what we see to be mistaken.
And, as with my reservations about the effectiveness of anger, I wonder at the limitations of humour. It can clearly serve as a defence: a way of holding things at arm’s length and deflecting what seems too much to handle. While that may be a natural reaction, does it help us move beyond these things and engage with making changes?
At times it seems the use of humour descends more into resignation and mocking – one a sense of apathy, and the other a resort to personal attacks. Which is understandable when problems seem so large, so systemic, so unapproachable. But at those times it also seems that humour loses its edge: dipping too much into powerlessness or anger, instead of walking that fine line of semi-conscious awareness.
Because it really seems that humour may help us admit difficult realities; literally to let them into our mind in a manner that doesn’t incapacitate us with despair or anger. While holding them at that slight distance may make them more manageable, deflecting too much seems to risk us not addressing the truth of the matter at all.
There’s a delicate balance there. And if we simply laugh but feel we can do no more, we’re then in this powerless place we need to be able to move beyond. And I’m really not saying that’s easy (Note Three), but that it seems important to be aware of. Laughter may help us in a lot of ways, especially if we can pick up the threads of hope and despair to build something better out of them.
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