The true purpose of humor [is] to help people cope with the fears and horrors of the world.
– Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
I have been a professor and a writer for more years than I care to reveal in print. It all started with my first "mid-life" crisis and my fascination with how we are affected and identified by our jobs and our careers (My Job My Self, 2000). The topic of work led me naturally to the topic of no-work and how we recreate and use our vacation time (The Importance of Being Lazy, 2003). My curiosity about the differences between good behavior and bad behavior led me to my next project, (Why It's Hard to be Good, 2006). I then focused my attention on the differences between good and bad behavior in business, (The Ethics of Business, 2012). And my fascination with business as an unorganized process led me to explore the role of leadership in doing business, (10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders, 2013).
But for the last 30 years, the topic I have really wanted to write on is the role that humor and joke-telling plays in our lives. And happily, I finally did it — The Importance of Being Funny: Why We Need More Humor in Our Lives.
Humor and comedy is more than just foolish fun. Humor is a sword and a shield to defend us against reality. Humor allows us to poke fun at our limits, our frailties. Jokes can de-fang, de-escalate, and domesticate our fears of the absurdity and complexity of life. As someone much cleverer than I has pointed out, we need humor in order to not die of the truth!
The simple fact of the matter is that life is harsh and fraught with trials and tribulations. Although humor and joke-telling is neither a permanent cure nor a direct answer to all of life's challenges, jokes can serve as a temporary reprieve and antidote to the tribulations of life. To paraphrase the satirist Christopher Buckley: Humor, like alcohol, at least makes our problems and other people momentarily less troublesome.
Jokes are weapons made of words. They allow us to take on taboos, poke fun at life, and mock human frailty. At least for a while, humor can detox the mysteries and make the unknown, the intolerable, and the utterly unavoidable more bearable. Of course, there is a caveat we must always keep in mind — humor is not a cure for life, but it can be a helpful temporary anesthesia!
To joke about politics, illness, death, God, sex or age is my way to detox or defuse something that essentially cannot be tamed. It is a way of being in charge of something that we really cannot control or completely understand. Joking about a "deep topic" or "dangerous topic" is a way of talking about it, examining it in a way that doesn't scare us, numb us and rob us of our joy for life. Humor gives us the courage to endure that which we cannot understand or avoid. As the late, great American "philosopher" Joan Rivers succinctly put it, "If you can laugh at it, you can live with it."
Al Gini, longtime resident of Oak Park/River Forest, is a professor of Business Ethics at the Quinlan School of Business, Loyola University, Chicago. "The Importance of Being Funny: Why We Need More Jokes in Our Lives" was published in July and is available locally at The Book Table, 1045 Lake St., Oak Park.
Answer Book 2017
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