Lent (Day 16) — “Happiness Attracts,” cont’d.

Finishing up Martin’s third chapter, “Happiness Attracts: 11 1/2 Serious Reasons for Good Humor”

Point 9: “Humor fosters good human relations.”  On this point, Martin makes the claim that humor is good in any institutional environment, as it helps to build community (we share laughs).  Of course, this claim only works with “good humor,” or generous humor.  When humor turns snarky, though it can help build a common bond (as in a clique), it has a divisive and corrosive quality.  I know all about this from personal experience.  When I first started teaching, I found myself far too often descending into sarcasm.  That didn’t help build any bond with my students.  It made the target of the sarcasm feel small, and his classmates feel some level of resentment at my bullying.  It took me a while to wean myself of the sarcasm, but getting past that is important.  And humor that brings a group together can help the group think more “broadly and creatively,” looking towards the future with hope and promise.  It can be a confidence builder and help people take some risks with their fellows.

Point 10: “Humor opens our minds.”  It’s easy to get caught up in seeing ourselves and our world in terms of labels, of limiting ourselves.  Humor helps get us past that.  Martin tells of two people he counseled in retreats over the years, who had a limited view of themselves, one thinking that she had no imagination, and the other thinking that he was a practical guy, all about doing stuff (which was more difficult as he got old).  Some shared humor helped both get past their limited way of seeing themselves and the world and opened up new possibilities.

Point 11 and 11 1/2: “Humor is fun,” and “Humor is often practical.”  On the second point, Martin mentions someone getting out of a speeding ticket by responding “I got here as fast as I could,” to a state policeman’s snarky comment that “I’ve been waiting all day for you.”  That makes me think that humor is a way of extending one’s hand to another — it’s an opening to fellowship, and can be quite powerful as a bonding agent.

Martin closes the chapter with a quotation from Karl Rahner: “A good laugh is a sign of love. It may be said to give us a glimpse of, or a first lesson in, the love that God bears for every one of us.”  Laughter is something we share, something that builds community, and offers play rather than the rigors of work.  It can be most effective in helping people past difficult times.  Years ago I worked on a political campaign, one that was somewhat disorganized, so we often had a lot of stuff to do at the end of filing periods.  And I remember the head of the office complimenting me by exhibiting such joie de vivre (she probably didn’t use that term) when things got tough and people were eager to take a break when we needed them most.  That spirit caught several of the people ready to leave for the day or the week and got them to reengage, so the work got done.  I found that compliment especially satisfying, not only because I was being recognized for doing something good, but because I had helped to enact what I think is a deep held view of mine — we’re all in this together, and, for a moment, at least, I helped to build community.  

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