45. Humor

Humor can be serious business. True, it can be an irritating distraction at times, diverting attention from the issue at hand. It can be destructive, eating away at human dignity or conveying suppressed anger in a way that it can’t be answered (Can’t you take a joke?). I know funny people, people who receive humor well but aren’t effective quarterbacks (Is it
better to quarterback than receive?), and people who are humor-impaired – people with laughing disabilities.
Garrison Keillor once talked about Mark Twain’s humor in a way that made me realize why I respect Keillor, Twain, and the like. He said, “Some people think good humor comes from joy, but I don’t think so. I think the best humor comes from sadness.” I think so, too. It doesn’t mean that humor is a wall, hiding sadness; it’s more of a window, letting you look into the sadness. It’s a great coping and healing device. When you’re ready to laugh about your pain – profoundly laugh, not superficially giggle, you’re on your way towards recovery.
Children want to be taken seriously. They like laughter as much as we do, but not when they’re trying to make a point. It can be irritating to hear laughter when you think you’ve said something important and someone thinks you’ve said it in a funny way. I remember a child, just learning English, who used a word incorrectly. It was cute. The adults in the room laughed, and the child said, “What are you funny about?” The adults laughed louder. The child left the room angrily. After I witnessed that, I resolved to try not to laugh at any child – to be sure I was laughing with the child if I laughed at all.
It was hard at first. It’s still hard sometimes, but it’s getting easier. Adults sometimes overhear my conversations with children and later say to me, “How can you keep a straight face?” Sometimes I quickly think of something that is not funny at all – the Vietnam War, the Holocaust, the average TV situation comedy. Sometimes I bite the inside of my cheek. And I’m getting so I can use the most honest and effective technique – really listening to what the child is saying, and refusing to be distracted by the cuteness.
As an effective humor quarterback and an eager receiver, I want to speak for the children (and adults) who don’t necessarily want us to laugh. I’m forever working to make sure I don’t send a bit of humor if the receiver is not ready to receive it. I like humor, but I’ve learned, over the years, that there’s a time and a place. Get it?

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