Is it just me, or does it seem like everyone has lost their sense of humor these last several years? People are so easily offended by innocently incorrect pronouns, American flags, vaccine status, school choice, vocal politicians, and perceived inequity. It’s exhausting. And those offended never seem willing to engage in discussion to untangle the intent from their own emotions, or politics for that amtter. I’ve found it best to hold my tongue.
I remember once seeing a quote from British comedian Ricky Gervais: “You found it offensive? I found it funny. That’s why I’m happier than you.” He touted the healing power of dark humor, equating it to a vaccine against the harsh reality of existence. He talks about taboo subjects in a lighthearted manner in order to take the audience to a place it hasn’t been before, and create a tension. In a different interview, he insisted that too often people get offended by conflating a quip with the actual “target,” and that intelligent audiences know how to take things in their comedic context.
I’m probably going to hell for some of the things I’ve laughed at. But he’s absolutely right. Remember as child when it was oh so funny to day “bad words” like shit? Over time, those words trickle into our vocabulary, while even more taboo topics creep into the periphery. Some may be dark, tragic, or deeply disturbing–death, regrets, historical missteps, or mental illness. When a topic is too daunting to look squarely in the face, humor offers a back door to mentally explore thoughts and feelings without becoming overwhelmed. Humor is a tool for coping, and for growing.
Similarly French philosopher Jean de La Bruyère said, “Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think.” The world that we live in is filled with strange oddities, small synchronicities, and plenty events worthy of a good joke. Going back to what Gervais says, a clever remark or sharp jest needn’t be cause for offense. If you choose to take a playful jab personally–and it is a choice–you’re inviting an aura of calamity and victimhood. On the other hand, if you learn to playfully consider and laugh at the ridiculous and uncomfortable, everything appears as satire and daily inconveniences become a source of slapdash pleasure.
Roman philopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger understood this 2,000 years ago: “No one is laughable who laughs at himself.” I suffered from chronic illness for eight years and, in retrospect, consider the crushing fatigue a gift solely because it stripped me of the energy necessary for worry. I no long care when anyone thinks about my appearance, ideas, or silly mistakes. Life is for living, not lamenting. Call me a fat, ugly cow and I’ll laugh. Call me a flag-flying fascist and I’ll laugh. What’s that childhood rhyme? “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” The average person nowadays is filled with resentment, anger and self-pity; any unfounded criticism coming from such a person should be a viewed as a reflection of their sad inner lives.
What’s more to say? This is a brutal time to be a human without a good sense of humor. I hope that all you good readers are well-equipped.