Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Use of Humor As A Drug


I began using humor as a drug on my 40th birthday when my parents bought me a book: Plato and A Platypus Walk Into a Bar. 

For the first time in my life, I read a book, not for edification, but for laughs. I have since used humor as a recreational drug, as a medicine, and as an enhancer of other capacities. Almost everyone knows something of its usefulness as a recreational substance, growing numbers of people are becoming familiar with its medical utility, but only practiced humorists appreciate some of the other ways in which it can be useful. 

For telling the truth...

Humor has been so useful to me that I cannot help but wonder how much difference it would have made had I lightened-up at a younger age. Because it has been so helpful in arriving at some important decisions and understandings, it is tempting to think it might have helped me avoid some "before Laughing" bad decisions. IN fact, now, when I have an important problem to solve or decision to make, I invariably find something to "laugh about" so that I can think about the problem both from a lighter as well as more serious minded viewpoint. 

I cannot possibly convey the breadth of things humor helps me to appreciate, to think about, and to gain new insights into. But I would like to share one not too personal instance. For example, let me tell you about the worst career choice I have ever made; it was my decision to speak at a luncheon with ambassadors and an ex-President of Mexico on the subject of the fair distribution of resources in economically repressed areas of China. This speech, had it gone well, would have resulted in an invitation to spearhead the project. 

What happened? 

My Chinese translator decided to play "footsies" with me under the table, and instead of laughing about her conduct, I, in my overly serious-minded intolerances, freaked-out about it and completely forget everything I was going to say on the matter. 

Was I homophobic? Of course not... just surprised by the previously unrealized interest and general impropriety, as well as my being so overly serious that my brain disengaged from my funny bone - resulting in my general inability to laugh it off and stay focused on the importance of the discussion at hand.

I have been generally satisfied with my work over the years, but have always thought that I could have excelled in a much higher capacity - higher in the context of serving humanity in eradicating poverty and injustice. Choosing to stay hidden in private industry with my nose buried in books (and archaeological dig sites) has done nothing to advance the world's causes nor has it truly enhanced my experience of living as would international philanthropic pursuits. 

I have no doubt that had I had a better developed sense of humor at that time that I would have been able to deal with a little unsolicited attention and rectify what was now clearly seen as a mistake. Such a possibility notwithstanding, I am indebted to humor for the help it has provided (and continues to provide) me in achieving the clarity necessary to arrive at this (and other) most difficult understanding. 

It is for this reason that were I given an opportunity to pursue a political post in international humor relations that I'd JUMP AT IT! in a heartbeat. 

Humor can also be used as a catalyst to the generation of new ideas. Experienced jokers know that under the influence of laughing new ideas flow more readily than they do while in a serious state of mind. They also understand that some are good and others are bad ideas; sorting them out is best done when in a neutral state of mind.
In the absence of an agenda, the ideas are generated randomly or as close or distant associations to conversation, reading, or some perceptual experience. It is sometimes worthwhile to have laughed about a problem rather than fretted about it.
All through the seemingly endless heated discussions on everything under the sun, little has been said or written about the true benefits of humor. The overwhelming preponderance of funding, research, writing, political activity, and legislation that has centered on the questions surrounding what defines "good living" is bunk if it doesn't result in "good living".
It is estimated that most of the world's population lives in "bad" conditions, which leads to unhappiness and difficulty laughing. There's nothing funny about the effects of poverty and injustice. Still, even the most impoverished citizens on the planet could derive perhaps more enthusiasm to creatively participate in their emancipation from a tragic story to a funnier one. After all, people are attracted to happy people. If we had a United Nations post dedicated to brining more humor to the world just imagine the radical social and economic benefits that would arise as a result of happier people.
It would seem that comedians and jokesters alike are at present time, at best, a subculture, one that has been present int he world since the history of humankind. In ancient times, laughing was a beneficial communication device. Where and when along the way to progress did we forget that?
Today, people laugh in small circles, amongst their friends and with their family members at home or in socially acceptable situations (comedy clubs, humorous television programming, romantic comedies, or on specifically targeted Internet websites). Understandably, these people don't want to be seen publicly laughing due to concerns of ridicule and fear of losing one's credibility among their peers as an intelligent human being. There are pernicious effects associated with being a jokester. This stigmatization is abetted by the media, which have created and perpetuated a stereotyped image of "funny people" as unemployed writers and artists not worthy of coherent discourse on relevant subjects.
Humorists seem to be mindful of the minefield surrounding the use of humor in replacement of serious social discourse, and most find ways around it. Just look at Late Night Television, everything is said that financiers and the producers of those television shows want to say in the name of humor, which makes it go down that much easier and which can equally be dismissed as mere humor given the ambiguity of the device.
Young people often experience less hostility toward their more humorous antics than do adults. But as they grow older and move into increasingly responsible and visible positions in society they become much more guarded, losing their sense of humor as I did in the aforementioned story. Many people believe correctly that colleagues would regard them as deviant or less competent if they joked around. One reason for the fierce resistance as humor as a socially-acceptable form of communication is the fear that it will somehow taint middle- and upper-class society with the notion that they are not deserving of their elevated positions in the hierarchy of social standing.

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