Humor is a funny word – okay, I know; I couldn’t resist. What I meant to say is, “Humor is a strange word.” It has many interesting meanings, but for our purposes, we are talking about humor as it relates to wit or merriment. Humor is a quality of the mind that can allow us to adapt to a challenging situation by altering our perspective in the spirit of lightheartedness.
Perhaps you know plenty of strong people who do not appear to have a sense of humor at all, so you may be wondering how humor can really increase core strength. While humor is not a requirement of strength, it can certainly help us redirect our thoughts and lift our spirits in difficult circumstances. That small uplift can sometimes be just enough to move us to dig a little deeper and to find the strength we need to carry on.
Generally, we can recognize humor when we experience it, and, without too much weighty consideration, we can distinguish the difference between it and the subtle cruelty of its counterparts. Humor, for our discussion, means something very different from what is often considered funny:
- Sarcasm is pointing out mistakes or foolishness in a caustic and negative manner.
- Ridicule is calling attention to something with the object of causing contemptuous laughter.
- Banter is a more playful version of ridicule.
- Teasing is something else altogether. At some point or another, most of us have endured a mortifying experience at the hands of others who assured us it was funny (or fun) and that they were, “just teasing.” Hmm… Webster’s dictionary provides a bit of insight into the harmlessness of teasing: “To tease is literally to pull or scratch, and implies a prolonged annoyance in respect to little things, which is often more irritating, and harder to bear, than severe pain.”
Humor as we are using it means finding fun in situations and sharing merriment without causing humiliation, degradation, pain, or discomfort to another person (present or otherwise). Humor can include puns, jokes, and jests when they are shared to make light of something without causing a wound to the feelings of another person. It may take the form of self-effacing laughter at a shared absurdity or harmless folly, and sometimes just recognizing the incongruity of a situation will result in a moment of uplifting humor.
So how do we use humor?
We can use it to help someone else over a difficult or potentially embarrassing experience by sharing a moment of similar “suffering” – such as when your student realizes his shirt is on inside out and backward, and you think to say, “Well, you can get twice as many wearings out of a shirt that way – I used to do it all the time in college.”
We can use it by allowing others to laugh at our mistakes. Imagine that you’re out on an expedition wearing ancient wooden skis that are very hard to control, but somehow you make it to the bottom of an icy road only to look back and see your instructor racing toward you totally out of control. You scramble out of the way and watch aghast as he pitches, backpack and all, into the ditch. Seconds later he disentangles himself from skis, backpack, and ditch and dryly asks, “What? Haven’t you ever seen someone skiing before?”
We can use it when we find ourselves (or when others find us) in awkward situations – say, when you’re working in the garden and you’re already dirty and sweating and suddenly it starts pouring rain – if that’s not enough your neighbor drives up, pristine in his clean clothes and air-conditioned car, and courtesy demands that you, in all your sodden sweaty glory, slog over to greet him. He takes one look at you, smiles, and asks, “Are you in the middle of something?”
We can use it in a stressful situation to relieve tension. Like when you’re a student in a boarding school, where the headmaster is a former Marine, and expectations are high. You, and all the other students, have taken a big bite of the main course of a meal, prepared by a fellow classmate, only to discover it is absolutely inedible because of too much salt. You silently stare around the table in dread of the consequence that will be coming when the headmaster takes his first taste. Noticing the silent discomfort around the table, he takes a bite, chews, swallows, sips his water, and says, “Please pass the salt.” Needless to say, the ensuing hilarity provides great relief.
The preceding examples are single moments when people were willing to alter the perception of an experience, using humor, and thus make it better for all involved. True humor leads to a lighter heart and a greater sense of connection with others. If you feel something else – it’s probably something else.