We enter the world with a cry. It’s almost as if we knew what was in store!
We leave the world with a sigh, having endured what we cried about, intuitively, when we arrived.
If we’re fortunate enough to have a good, long and meaningful life, the sigh with which we leave the world is a sigh of relief.
In a good life, the time between that first cry and that last sigh is lavishly laced with laughter.
The ancient Greeks believed that the spiritual life-the life of the soul-begins the moment we have our first laugh.
Barry Sanders, in his serious book about the origins and meanings of humor summarizes the Greek philosopher’s view:
Through laughing, the anima becomes animated. The simple act of laughing is fraught with significance, for it marks the beginning, in the ancient world, of each person’s spiritual journey.
The anima is the soul; the true self; the inner self. In Jungian psychology the anima is the feminine aspect of the personality, which is present in men as well as women.
The word anima is rooted in the Latin verb ‘to breath.’ The Biblical story says that God fashioned man from clay, from the earth, ‘and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.’
The verb ‘to laugh’ is rooted in the Latin verb ‘to breath.’ To laugh, for the Greeks, was to catch your second wind.
Parents are the primary educators, the earliest and most lasting influence, for better or worse.
One of the important tasks of good parenting is to nurture a sense of humor in their child. It’s also important to draw appropriate boundaries around the uses of humor-to have a good sense of humor, an appropriate sense of humor. A joyous person must first be a civilized person.
Our cultural attitudes influence parents and children-many of those attitudes have come down to us from the Greeks, as we’ve mentioned above.
Aristotle defined human essence as animal ridens, ‘the creature who laughs.’ Language and laughter separate us from the other animals, he said, but it is only laughter that grants us our uniquely spiritual life.
Socrates compared humor to salt. A certain amount of salt seasons the meal, but too much can ruin it. Socrates was concerned about laughter turning into derision, like salt on a wound. It must be used carefully, as well as sparingly.
Plato wasn’t as generous with the salt. In the Republic, he warns that too much laughter breaks down the necessary order of things. He explained that the public ‘equates seriousness with sincerity, honesty and competency.’
Plato was so cautious about the misuses of humor; for the sake of the smooth-running state he would just as soon remove laughter from the leaders altogether. Laughter is too often demeaning to those in leadership, and too disruptive of important discussion.
Socrates, on the other hand, suggested that humor could be used to disarm his adversaries. He suggested that we intentionally fake ignorance to disarm our adversaries. (Where do you suppose the writers for Columbo got their idea for the bumbling, stumbling old trench-coat wearing character with the unlit cigar, who always exposed the perpetrator of the perfect crime? First he disarms his adversary, then he reveals his insightful and expert observations.)
There are lots of reasons to nurture a sense of humor, and as many to be careful about it.
The process of parenting is summarized in the word ‘nurturing.’ To nurture is feed. The root of the word nurture comes from the Greek verb ‘to suckle.’ The verb ‘to nurse’ shares the root. It means ‘to flow,’ so we’re reminded to ‘go with the flow.’
To nurture is also to cherish; to educate; to guide; to raise; to discipline, teach, cultivate-to promote growth. It’s serious business, so a good sense of humor is important. It’s one of the most important things in life.
We need to nurture a sense of humor in our children. We know, instinctively, that it’s important. That’s why, on this Mother’s Day, I decided to explore what we call ‘a good sense of humor.’
Humor is often inappropriate: the racist, sexist, homophobic jokes.or the scornful, derisive, sarcastic, laughter are not part of a good sense of humor. But is that kind of humor always inappropriate?
I recently read a book by Steve Lipman titled, Laughter in Hell: The Use of Humor during the Holocaust. He points out that the use of scornful, derisive, sarcastic jokes and laughter was a life-saver for those interred in Hitler’s death camps.
You might think there wouldn’t be any humor in the camps, but you’d be wrong. Lipman writes about the capacity of Hitler’s victims to employ their sense of irony as a spiritual weapon.
He says, They relieved the pressure with humor, adding, I am more sure than ever that humor is one of the greatest gifts God gave mankind to pull itself out of despair.
Humor can be a weapon to fight oppression.
Some questioned why one would continue to pray in the camps. They said, God is either dead, silent or impotent.
The question was put to a survivor, How could you pray or laugh? He responded, We had no other choice. The very act of praying and laughing made us stronger.
Lipman writes, Since the time of Hippocrates.laughter’s medicinal power has been recognized, and most of us would agree that humor heals.
For some the very idea of humor as it relates to the horror of the Holocaust seems disrespectful, sacrilegious.the very thought cheapens the victims lives. Lipman says that Hitler’s victims laughed to preserve their own sanity.
Look at the success of The Producers. Who would have imagined a smash Broadway hit musical comedy with a song Springtime for Hitler? It was the hottest ticket in town.
A survivor of the camps says, Wit produced on the precipice of hell was not frivolity, but psychological necessity.we kept our moral through humor.
Lipman says, Whether we, who did not share the victims’ pain, can fully share their laughter is another question.
George Orwell called political jokes ‘tiny revolutions.’ With a joke or cartoon you could attack the government, and for a moment, at least, you did not feel powerless.
Let me share a few brief examples of the way humor was used against the Nazi’s:
Hitler and Goering are standing on the Berlin radio tower. Hitler says he would like to give the Berliners some joy. So Goering says, “Then jump off the tower.”
Two Berliners meet. “Why do you look so out of sorts,” the first asks. “There will be war soon.” “Why?” “Hitler gave a speech about peace today.”
German propaganda during the war:
First year of the war: We have won.
Second year of the war: We will win.
Third year of the war: We must win.
Fourth year of the war: We cannot be defeated.
Picasso is summoned by the Nazi commandant of Paris and shown a reproduction of the artist’s painting of Guernica’s destruction by German bombers during the Spanish Civil War. “Did you do that?” the commandant asks. “No,” replies Picasso, “you did.”
Sometimes humor is used by the oppressed and powerless simply to survive. That’s why so many political cartoonists make such a good living. What would The New Yorker be without its cartoons?
In good times, humor helps us to keep the spirit animated; it is directly connected to the religious or spiritual life. In bad times humor is a tool for survival.
Since humor is so important, we appreciate the source of humor-the people who help us to laugh-to laugh at ourselves, and to see the absurdity in so much of the political-social world. We appreciate a person with a good sense of humor.
At funeral and memorial services one of the expressions of appreciation about the deceased is that ‘s/he had a great sense of humor.’ One of my favorite statements about the successful life, which we often use at memorial services, begins:
To laugh often and love much. To win and hold the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of little children.to have played with enthusiasm, laughed with exultation, and to go down to dust and dreams knowing that the world is a little bit better because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.
I recently heard this statistic: adults laugh, on average, 30 to 40 times a day, and children laugh 300 to 400 times a day.
‘Unless ye become as a child you can’t enter the Kingdom.’
We all respond to a baby’s cry. That’s why it’s so important that parents and others in charge of the little ones take them into the foyer when they give the appropriate signal. Crying is a built-in tool of our human survival. The ‘old brain’ responds to a baby’s cry; when a baby is crying in the sanctuary, anything else that’s going on is eclipsed.
We love to make babies laugh. We love to make one another laugh. We love to laugh. Laughter is the best medicine. Proverbs 15 says, A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance.
At a recent clergy meeting one of my colleagues was talking about the joy of being a grandparent. He talked about his son would hold the baby upside down to make him laugh and said it gave him insight into the nature of humor. Humor happens when we turn all the serious stuff on its head.
Norman Cousins understood the benefits of humor. In his book The Anatomy of an Illness he writes about being diagnosed with what he was told was a painful terminal illness. The first thing he did was to get out of the hospital to a more cheerful place. He checked himself into a hotel, asked a friend to bring him a movie projector (this was in the days before videos) and some Marx Brothers and other funny films, and laughed himself into a full recovery. The vitamin C helped, but the laughter, he said, was the best medicine.
Those in the medical profession explain the biology of laughter-it extends into every organ of the body. Life-giving oxygen floods into the blood stream, the cardiovascular system loves it. The muscles relax, the diaphragm convulses and a natural pain reliever brings instant gratification and relief. Bring on the endorphins!
A good sense of humor is serious business. One of the defects of our Calvinistic, Puritan heritage was its lack of humor. A Sunday service without laughter is a sin. Well.point made.
When I officiate at a wedding I suggest to the couple that love brought them together and a good sense of humor will go a long way toward keeping them together; not only keeping them together as a couple, but helping each of them to ‘keep it together’ in the colloquial sense of that phrase. If you don’t keep it together you ‘fall apart.’ When you lose your sense of humor it’s a long afternoon.
Parenting makes many demands. It is challenging and often complicated. It requires lots of laughter. The following quotes from day school children, responding to questions about the Bible provide an opportunity to oxygenate the blood. They said:
In the first book, Guinessis, God got tired of creating the world so he took the Sabbath off.
The Jews were a proud people and throughout history they had trouble with unsympathetic Genitals.
Moses led the Jews to the Red sea where they made unleavened bread which is bread without any ingredients.
The first commandment was when Eve told Adam to eat the apple. The seventh commandment is thou shalt not admit adultery.
When Mary heard she was the mother of Jesus, she sang the Magna Carta.
Jesus was born because Mary had an immaculate contraption.
St. Paul cavorted to Christianity, he preached holy acrimony, which is another name for marriage.
Christians have only one spouse. This is called monotony.
Laughter makes the world bearable. Well, laughter and a hug. Laughter, a hug and some good home cooking.
Laughter, a hug, some good home cooking and the right pillow, like the one Goldilocks found: not too hard, not too soft, but ‘just right.’
Laughter is good for us. That’s why we always call it a ‘good’ laugh. A good sense of humor is a gift from the gods; it’s a gift first for the one who has it, and it’s also a gift for the people around her.
A good laugh may not cure the ills of the world, but it might be ‘just what the doctor ordered.’ So, have a good laugh and call me in the morning.