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Humor Incorporated; Three Important Ways We Use Humor to Navigate Life

Interested in the ways that humor serves us in our daily lives.

What did the cave boy say to his teacher? “A Tyrannosaurus at my homework.”

But seriously, let’s explore three important ways we rely on humor in every day. Though It's entirely plausible that cavemen were hurling zingers at each other in drawings on the cave wall.

Filter for Pain and Sorrow

"...The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven" is a quote from on of the works of the great American humorist Mark Twain. This quote offers insight into how people engage the cathartic qualitiy of humor and the likely outcome laughter.

My mother was quick-witted and known for her spontaneous come-backs and zingers. I remember being embarrassed by her when I was young and then later in life I realized I had become my mother. I also use humor to deflect emotional pain and a feeling of inadequacy.

This realization was never more evident than when a workmate let me know that I'd come up in a conversation she'd had with her husband the previous night. She told him "There's a girl at work and she's weird with a really odd sense of humor but I think you'll really like her." All these years later I still think about this statement as I often try to step outside myself to understand how others perceive me.

Buried deep in the psyche of my mother were the pain and corresponding sorrow of an alcoholic, philandering father, and an ever-suffering mother. Constant evictions due to failure to pay the rent and perpetual bullying by neighborhood kids created a thick crust for a gruff exterior. So when a priest from the church came to the house with a gun looking for her father to collect a debt, my mother retold this experience and many others using humor as the filter. She and her brothers made being poor and unfortunate a lifelong source of raucous humor and wonderful entertainment at family gatherings.

"Andropov dropped off!" said my mother after she called me at work when the Soviet leader died. The trusty "You can't hurt a smile by cracking one" was always waiting in the wings when she spotted a frown whether she knew you or not.

Challenging Social Situations

"Perhaps, the most overarching use of humorous communication is to help navigate contentious social situations. In addition, humor is widely utilized during courtship (Weisfeld, 1993)." from the article The First Joke: Exploring the Evolutionary Origins of Humor from the 2006 article in Evolutionary Psychology. In fact, a job interview is a form of courtship but equally a contentious social situation.

"So I guess you're all wondering why I called you here today" I delivered with aplomb to the group of hiring managers and human resource representatives. I was prepared for the interview and feeling confident. There was a long silence after the introductions and I saw no notes on the other side of the table.

I saw a valuable opportunity to pull out an "icebreaker" for an uncomfortable social situation and I used the element of surprise to take control of the meeting. Interviewers are never prepared for such boldness and the shock on their faces is priceless. The reception to the icebreaker offers valuable insight about whether you'll be a good fit for the position and the company. After all, we're here to ascertain whether we should enter into a professional relationship and I'm WYSIWYG, or What You See Is What You Get because I believe in me.

Persuade and Influence

“The use of Humor to demonstrate superiority and elevate social status.” Consciously and subconsciously we use humor to tap into our intellect to create humor that will ingratiate, persuade, and influence an outcome or sell a product or idea. We can't fathom the millions of deals and sales that have been cemented with humor.

There’s a long-ago family story of my gregarious uncle who was an IBM salesman with a strong track record but he was outspoken. With the news he'd been transferred to Huntington, West Virginia he responded in jest "Why would you send me to a place with no electricity to sell electric copiers?". The apt reply from his manager was "Because I'm either going to fire you or promote you."

Humor is a survival mechanism and a universal trait in the human species. It is deeply rooted in family history, personal experience, and the ability to reason and form complex thoughts.

© 2020 Sharon R Hill