It’s often easier to say things humorously. It’s a way of communicating that allows plausible deniability while testing the waters, so it’s potentially quite helpful in broaching difficult issues: letting you say things without actually saying them. As communication goes though, that’s clearly a little ambiguous. And where does it leave us in terms of the social atmosphere?
While not having investigated theories around humour’s social functions and inner workings, it seems to skirt close to the truth in order to be effective. Truthful observations can become more approachable, indirectly, in this way as it’s socially acceptable to laugh and bond with those around you in appreciating the unspoken intention of what’s being said.
That kind of subversion of words, context, meaning, and potentially provocative implications is an intriguing aspect of human community: that we would make fun of ourselves, laugh at the realities we’re finding ourselves within.
In terms of how we manage as a society when life is hard, generally humour and anger seem the responses we turn to (see Notes One). Of the two, humour’s clearly the more enjoyable, and possibly the approach more likely to unite us. Both, though, are emotional responses. Both create ripples within the social environment – something we then have to navigate more purposefully, perhaps.
After either moment’s passed, we presumably still need to be able to talk about things meaningfully? An over-reliance on humour could lead into perpetually silly conversations where everything’s deflected, nothings truly being said, and avenues for more direct engagement with our problems aren’t really emerging.
Leaving anger aside, humour seems to let us place things on the table and explore the emotion around that. Surely an important function? Of course, it doesn’t solve anything and likely doesn’t carry well when taken out of context; but as a way to check our understanding of life with others it’s seeming quite valuable.
I mean, if we were to use humour to reach out in this way; then were to use that initial feedback to develop more exploratory conversations around things we might not yet understand or appreciate, there’s real value there (Notes Two). From that first, tentative, light-hearted social reaction we could discern so much to then sensitively and thoughtfully unpack through conversation and self-reflection.
I’m aware of being both meta and idealistic here, but surely humour can serve as more than simply the escape of release? Handled as a starting point for something more, it could become a very effective springboard for addressing our plentiful struggles.
Because arguably we only know what we know; anything else is beyond that, laying out there in a space we’ve not yet encountered or explored (Notes Three). If we’re ever to expand our horizons then we need to be able to navigate that which we don’t know. Reaching out into those spaces, finding ways to understand and relate to the social significance of what’s there, might be slightly confounding.
Becoming more skilful communicators could be the most wonderful blessing, for us and others.
Notes and References:
Note 1: Anger as a voice
Note 1: We may as well laugh
Note 2: Apparent difficulty in finding a voice
Note 2: Tone in public dialogue
Note 2: Counselling, listening & social identity
Note 3: Is anything obvious to someone who doesn’t know?
Note 3: Seeing, knowing and loving