Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sense of Humour

The dictionary definition goes “the trait of appreciating and being able to express the humorous”

We all know that we need this to survive in this world. It makes the world a better place.

Despite the universal acceptance of its need, no other trait has been more misunderstood than this one, and I shall set out to explain my understanding of this particular trait.

What is it?

Unlike a specific skill, like playing football, this one is a bit generic in nature, and subjective, and like most subjective things, is not easy to assess.

You can look at a Ronaldo or a Messi and declare “Ha! There is a fine footballer”

One can’t say, looking at a person, “Ha! Here is a guy with sense of humour”. One needs to have a deeper understanding of that person, over a period of time, under trying circumstances.

To understand what it is, it is always easier to understand first what it is not.

It is not
  • Cracking jokes at the expense of another person, like highlighting the person’s deficiency, exaggerating an event, downplaying a person’s capability. (recall Trump mimicking the reporter with disability)
  • Being vulgar
  • Ability to merely recite jokes
  • Dig into the limited repertoire of anecdotes from the past, often imaginary, to regale the audience (often repeated under the influence of alcohol, so one gets to hear the same story many times over)
  • Bullying hapless individuals, at times children, to a point of their embarrassment and other’s merriment.
  • Trapping inarticulate individuals into clever wordplay

In a nutshell, it is NOT one’s ability to evoke laughter at the expense of another individual.

Let us now explore what must be considered as true sense of humour.

As a trait it is one’s ability to evoke a laughter under the even most trying situation.

The ability to sow optimism when the future looks bleak.

The ability to remember a joke, relevant to the topic, and graceful narration of the same to ease the situation and improve the atmosphere.

The ability to diffuse a tense situation.

The ability to inspire confidence in another person to approach you with their troubles.

The best example of a great sense of humour for me has been the role played by Roberto Benigni in the film Life is Beautiful.

He is in a situation where he is confined to a concentration camp, where he had to protect his son.

He has two options.

Tell the son the horrors of Nazi-Jew situation, scare him into submission, hide him successfully and somehow hope he gets out alive.

Or, be so positive and concoct stories, dispel fears with vivid imagination, that the son has no other option but to keep smiling even in the face of the most dire situations.

As anyone who has seen this masterpiece knows, he chooses the latter. (Those who have not seen the film, drop everything, including reading this blog, and go watch the film)

The best part of his method is that the son gets out with positivism, not morose with negative feelings and hatred for some.

Two scenes stand out in that wonderful film.

The first where he steps forward to, impromptu, translate the arrival instructions given out by the commandant to ensure that his son hears what he wants him to hear.



The second is, even in the face of such a calamity, he hoodwinks his son into hiding, in order to save him, and expose him to the risk of capture and subsequent death.



With his sense of humour he manages to win his love, make his son believe in humanity (no more spiders and visigoths), make his son survive the camp and succeed in getting his son leave the camp alive and with no hatred inside him.

It is because of his extreme positivism and exemplary sense of humour, which stems from quick thinking, that the son cries “We have won” even after his father is dead and when he gets reunited with his mother.

A person with a sense of humour should be able to make the others around him bask in the comfort of encouragement and not squirm in the agony of embarrassment.

In summary a sense of humour is the capacity to laugh with not laugh at.


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