Oh, hey. Haven’t seen you in a while. How’s it going?
I have decided to bequeath to you a pertinent article I recently encountered on humor. Its pertinence will be explained in a moment. With a background in educational psychology and personal interest in human behavior and cognition, I find humor to be one of the most interesting and, despite its ubiquitousness, somewhat esoteric shared human experiences. I also like to think I’m kind of funny, so I seek to hone this natural and humble gift through researching and learning its mechanics. Truth be told, this blog is like a laboratory for my voice and aspiring comedic writing identity (thanks for being my subjects). I know some of my content will be amusing, and some of it will kind of suck. I’m ready to suck. I’m prepared. Just don’t be too mean about it. And if you want to be mean, just take into account the useful tools for humor I am providing you below.
The Humor Code is on my list of to-read books this year, and the benign-violation hypothesis is one of the theories researched in its contents. It suggests that “three conditions are jointly necessary and sufficient for eliciting humor: A situation must be appraised as a violation, a situation must be appraised as benign, and these two appraisals must occur simultaneously.” It seems all technical and scientific, but it makes sense, if you take away charisma, presence, timing etc. and all the other things that can make something funny.
Here’s a url to the dry, kinda boring academic article: http://leeds-faculty.colorado.edu/mcgrawp/pdf/mcgraw.warren.2010.pdf
And here’s a url to the author of the Humor Code, Pete McGraw’s blog: http://www.petermcgraw.org/a-brief-introduction-to-the-benign-violation-theory-of-humor/
I know in my sharing of these pieces of literature I’m assuming you’ve the time and willingness to devote to such digressions. But you’re here… so isn’t it a safe assumption that you might find your way over to that random neck of the internet woods? I think so.
And here is one of the many reasons why this information is pertinent. A few days ago, I discovered the malign violation theory in the Humor Code. The malign part negates the humorous or funny component in the situation. Instead of the violation being benign, or harmless, it’s harmful. Here’s an example:
We’ve all fallen victim to the a-hole who thinks they’re funny and is really just an a-hole. You know this person. They made those slightly below-the-belt jabs, completely blind-siding you at that party or at work or wherever. And while you’re trying to figure out what just happened, the individual laughs and moves on from you to the next victim. And the worst part about this situation is not necessarily that someone was cruel and unfunny (which is definitely not cool), it’s that this individual actually thinks they’re funny! (ok, maybe the former is worse) And you know what’s even more of a tragedy? No one has told this person they’re not funny. So they just perpetuate, like a bad virus.
I certainly didn’t tell this person they weren’t funny when I found myself in a kerfuffle of this nature a few weeks ago. Instead of defending myself, I just obliged this wretched person and laughed along with them so as to not be perceived as sensitive or pot-stirringly confrontational. Days later, because of my pitiful submission, I found the juvenile side of myself ruminating- plotting petty and stealthy ways to sabotage them. You know, like smear mud on their face and then scamper away like a little goblin, hiding in the bushes. This is not cool. I know that. I dwelled and ranted to my friends for days until there wasn’t a single morsel left to reenact and deconstruct. I even practiced a series of speeches designed to confront and humiliate this individual the way they did me. But you and I both know these soliloquies were merely cathartic compositions that will never see the light of day, and thank goodness for that. Because the non-juvenile, somewhat-resistant-to-being-a-real-adult part of me knows that’s not the way to go. We’ve got to take the high road.
Let’s pause for a moment. I’m fully aware you might be thinking I’m a bit neurotic and petty at this point. And I am. Ugh. In my head, I so am. But I’m trying not to be. Because it doesn’t feel good. It’s sticky, and icky and shameful and drenched with ego. We need to be on the same team, all of us! Team human! Team trying-to-make-it! Team we’re-all-just-trying-to-be-happy! But when someone else rejects me, it permeates. I reject them, and then I reject me. Because don’t we all in some way measure ourselves just a teensy bit by how much or little we are liked? I’m not saying I’m proud of it. I’m not. But I’m also working on not judging myself for this, for that just perpetuates the deeper issue. I’m working on honesty and compassion with myself- identifying my opportunities for growth and not squashing the inner darkness, but rather, flooding it with warmth and light and love. Too cheesy? Too bad!
So instead of jumping out from behind the bushes and smearing mud on this poor person, I need to remember team human. Maybe, just maybe, that person is trying to be happy, too. Maybe they just want to be liked. Just like me.
In moments like these, I like to think of the good ol’ Dalai. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, that is. Here’s one of his sage anecdotes:
“Every single being, even those who are hostile to us, is just as afraid of suffering as we are, and seeks happiness in the same way we do. Every person has the same right as we do to be happy and not to suffer. So let’s take care of others wholeheartedly, of both our friends and our enemies. This is the basis for true compassion.”
I know what you might be thinking. “But they started it!” as my oh-so-noble, young and totally unaccountable students may say. But, if you’re cold, you don’t get rid of the cold by tossing it out, or meeting it with cold. You warm up- with a hug, or a warm fire, or a sweater, or space heater, or whatever. If a plant is thirsty and suffering, you give it water. And if it’s dark, you let in the light.
Negativity and malign violations don’t just go away. They must be countered with positivity, and love. And maybe a little bit of humor.
Mark Twain said, “humor is tragedy plus time”.
Maybe in time, this will all be funny. And for now, I’ll just skip the mud-slinging, and do my best to make that person laugh. Let in the light.
Looks like that’s a point for Team Human.