Where can you turn when you’re feeling sad, angry or worse? Turn to humor, of course. At the best and the worst of times, humor helps us through. Especially if it is the right kind. When you feel powerless, humor can even the field. It can attract people to you. Bring "us" closer. It's the magic glue that sticks stories on us that we’ll readily re-tell with a smile. Yet, increasingly in modern life, we turn to canned entertainment for humor. Here's to more of the do-it-yourself kind, starting today.
Senior copywriter at US Advertising, Frank Visco, once wrote, tongue-in-cheek that, “One should never generalize.” At the risk of generalizing, let me summarize three studies of humor. I’ve discovered that we demonstrate humor in one of three ways: divisive, unifying or totally lacking in humor. They affect us in very different ways, as I’ll describe in the next three posts. First the worst.
Divisive Humor is Insulting to Someone …. and Often Hilarious.
A music reviewer wrote in the newspaper, Record Mirror, "Few people know that the CIA is planning to cripple Iran by playing the Bee Gee’s “ESP” album on special loudspeakers secretly parachuted into the country."
There are exceptions. For example, some apparently divisive humor is often unifying because of the near universal view of the institution you are knocking. Or, when you use their own words to poke fun at the institution. Here are five examples.
1. "Please provide the date of your death," is an actual quote from an IRS letter a reporter received.
2. Sometimes the institution sets itself up for a double shot of humor. Here’s an excerpt from the Correction Notice in the Ely Standard, a British newspaper: "We apologize for the error in last week's paper in which we stated that Mr. Arnold Dogbody was a defective in the police force. We meant, of course, that Mr. Dogbody is a detective in the police farce."
3. All too often, simply repeating what someone said can show that person in an unfavorable but humorous light. In his testimony before Congress as to his role in Iran-Contra, then Colonel Oliver North, said, "I was provided with additional input that was radically different from the truth. I assisted in furthering that version."
4. Some apparently divisive humor merely reflects the understandable emotion of the moment. Thus it becomes unifying. "Men, I want you just thinking of one word all season. One word and one word only: Super Bowl.” said Bill Peterson, a popular football coach.
5. "It's no exaggeration to say that the undecideds could go one way or another."
- president George W. Bush.
Even with friend where you think they will understand divisive humor can hurt. As an anonymous humorist once wrote in a list of “Rules of Combat”, “The only thing more accurate than incoming enemy fire is incoming friendly fire.”
To help a group recover from someone’s use of divisive humor, try unifying humor: "People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do."
Tomorrow I’ll describe how unifying humor can crack tension, bring people closer.