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Where Does Your Kind of Humor Get You With Others?

“Wall Street swindler Bernie Madoff failed to protect his assets with a bankruptcy motion. His lawyer tried to get all charges dropped. He argued that Madoff is no longer a threat to society because there aren’t any rich people anymore,” writes Argus Hamilton in jest.

Here’s two more mock news items from Argus:

“Earth Day is a day when Democrats call for new sources of energy to replace fossil fuels, and Republicans make an extra effort to replace their divots.”

“Captured Somali pirate Abduwali Muse appeared in a Manhattan federal court where he was arraigned on charges of piracy. The 5-foot-2, 90-pound African teenager broke down crying in court. He doesn’t want to be adopted by Madonna.”

Feeling stressed or sad? Humor helps – if it’s the right kind. Did a situation turn tense? Humor can make it evaporate – if it’s the right kind. When feeling powerless  – or overpowering – the right kind of humor can even the field. Want to bring others closer? Try the kind of humor that leads to living well – with others. This might help….

Frank Visco wrote, tongue-in-cheek that, “One should never generalize” but I will. Everyone takes one of three approaches to humor:

1. Divide: Using it to defend,or deflect and thus divide.

2. Unite: Using it as a way to relieve tension, heal hurt feelings or otherwise bring people closer.

3. Ignore: Seeing it as silly, a waste of time or both. Humor should be deflected or ignored.

Each behavior affects others in different ways.

First the worst.

1. Divisive Humor is Insulting to Someone …. and Often Hilarious.

Even well-meaning, kidding humor from someone who knows you well can hurt. He knows where to strike. As in the Rules of Combat, “The only thing more accurate than incoming enemy fire is incoming friendly fire.” 

In your car, patience is a quality you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead. In humor, if it’s funnier to say than the hear, then it’s divisive. 

There are exceptions. Some apparently divisive humor is often unifying because of the near universal opinion of the target. One method is to simply repeat the target’s words. Here are examples.

1. A music reviewer wrote, “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.”

2.”Please provide the date of your death.” ~ a quote from an IRS letter received by a reporter.

3.  Sometimes the institution sets itself up for a double shot of humor. Here’s a Correction Notice in 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.”

4. 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.”

5.  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 football coach Bill Peterson.

6.  “It’s no exaggeration to say that the undecideds could go one way or another.”~ George H. Bush

7. Happiness, for some, is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.

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.”

In the next post I’ll describe how unifying humor cracks tension, improves health, brings us closer, makes us more popular, more hopeful – and more money, yet not necessarily thinner, unfortunately.

The source of inspiration for today’s post is the passing of an actress who used unifying humor to side with the underdog. Her wise-cracking warmth enabled her to speak up on the sometimes controversial issues in which she believed. A mark of using humor well is when it brings out the better side in others. You did that so well and so often, Beatrice Arthur. 

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  1. Posted April 27, 2009 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    A person with great sense of humor can do a good job

  2. Posted June 2, 2010 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    I have discovered that my sense of humor is rather dry and if executed at the wrong moment, it has the tendency to upset certain people. Thus, I have limited its use to the maximum possible extent but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy using it anymore…great writing, by the way!

  3. Posted June 2, 2010 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    Dry humor is one of my favorite kinds. I hope you find people and situations where others appreciate it. Context and others’ backgrounds make such a difference in how humor hits people.

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