When we’re born, we already have the ability to laugh. We often see babies giggle for no reason, and their innocent chuckling is contagious. As we grow up, we discover that which is intended to make us laugh. We are taught knock-knock jokes, we look at cartoons, we giggle at silly faces. We become conscious of things that tickle our funny bone. My father, for example, is a fan of The Three Stooges. Though my father is typically a quiet man, Larry, Moe, and Curly leave him clutching his sides and gasping for air. The joy that The Three Stooges brings to my dad is a delight to see.
Humor in itself is neither good nor bad. It is how we use it that affects its moral orientation. A comedian may poke fun at something that should be taken seriously. Jokes may also be used specifically to injure another person, making him or her the 'butt of the joke.' On the other hand, laughter can also be beneficial. Laughter can unite people and allow them to identify with each other. When two people find the same things funny, they usually say that they have the same sense of humor: this is something they hold in common, something that binds them together. When an entire room laughs at the same thing, there is a certain community that arises, just from the simple act of laughter. There are truly funny things in the world, and it is important to recognize them.
Some types of humor can be hurtful however. Most parents, mine included, are familiar with something that is normally called a ‘smart mouth’, a quick, cutting, witty comeback to a question or a proposition that often has a disarming effect. Sarcasm and smart talk can be disrespectful and disobedient. There is danger in incorporating amusement into conflict. It is very easy to unintentionally offend someone when using wit during a conservation. A good rule of thumb is to never make a joke about a single person, as such a personal attack would just end up hurting someone and would not inspire fruitful conservation.
On the other hand, quick wit and sarcasm can also be very useful.
Last week was the Hildebrand Project’s fifth annual Summer Seminar. During the conference, Michael Novak, one of the faculty speakers, called for humor in response to opposition. When there is a flaw in someone’s stance, one of the easiest ways to reveal that flaw is by pointing out any contradictions it makes. Humor is a tool that can be used to do just that. Novak claimed that employing humor in an authentically witty way, one that is not coarse or demeaning, could help point out the absurdity of a position. He stated that humor has a way of disarming your opponent and also making them think about what has been said. This may seem like an impossible task, but it has been done before.
Memes are a modern example of this practice. A common meme is typically just a picture with a caption, but for some reason, they capture our attention. A meme may grab us because of a funny picture, a clever caption, or perhaps because it reminds us of something we have encountered in our lives. But sometimes, a simple picture with a caption can really make an impact. It can actually point out something incongruous that we may not have noticed before, in short, it has the power to really make us stop and think, while still being funny.
Humor has the power to affect change. When used charitably and with intention, it is a powerful ally, capable of easing tension, inspiring community, and aiding in the search for truth.
I am an aspiring Philosopher. I like to think about philosophy underlying daily life. I love dark chocolate, red wine, Tim Horton's Iced Capps and pickles. I love to travel and I want to see the Northern Lights before I die. I once bought a car I couldn't drive.