by Robert Wilkinson
I was reading an article recently about how humor and laughter can heal and bring grace into polarized situations that need it. That got me to thinkin'...
Having been involved for several decades in the national political arena (an inmate-dominated asylum if ever there was one), I have seen the public political and social dialog become dominated by screaming heads and some very bizarre, irrational, and even unfunny views of reality. Reality being the flexible thing it is, it's curious that so many are hypnotized by their own view, and get stuck in being way too serious (rather than Sirius, or even Alpha Centauri!) about it.
Having fallen into that trap several times, I understand how easy it happens. It seems to be part of being a social human. But then again, so is laughter. That's why humor may be the all important antidote to the heaviness of our times.
The article was written for the WaPo by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a Professor and former president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, It was titled Comedy saves America: the Stewart and Colbert rallies. I found it interesting, so when you're done here, by all means read the whole article if you're so inclined.
Obviously her commentary involves the coming "competing" rallies to be held on the National Mall on October 30, 2010. If you've been on a Moon of Neptune and haven't heard about this, Jon Stewart is going to host a "Rally to Restore Sanity" as a counterpoint to Glenn Beck's "I'm going to preempt Martin Luther King's 'I Have A Dream Speech' day with my 'Restoring Honor' rally."
When he announced it on his show, Jon made it clear that "We're looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn't be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it's appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles."
Never one to be outdone in one-upping the absurdity factor, Stephen Colbert announced a simultaneous "March to Keep Fear Alive" rally to put the spotlight on fear-mongering. As the man who originated the notion of "truthiness" put it on his show, "America, the Greatest Country God ever gave Man, was built on three bedrock principles: Freedom. Liberty. And Fear -- that someone might take our Freedom and Liberty. But now, there are dark, optimistic forces trying to take away our Fear -- forces with salt and pepper hair and way more Emmys than they need. They want to replace our Fear with reason. But never forget -- 'Reason' is just one letter away from 'Treason.' Coincidence? Reasonable people would say it is, but America can't afford to take that chance."
Anyway, here's what Ms. Thistlethwaite wrote that got me to thinkin':
Comedy is a way to see the contradictions and foibles of the human condition and make it bearable. Comedy isn't trivial. Comedy comes from the contradictions, even the pain of human existence. Comedy is, in fact born in pain and tragedy....
Knowing each other, and laughing together about how ridiculous it really is to live in these times, are practical ways we can get out of extremism and into empathy. Being able to laugh together is rooted in the human capacity for self-transcendence.... We are capable at making fun of ourselves, and of our own puffed up, self-importance, even the kind that is leading to tragic consequences. Making fun of our own human temptation to overreach is a way to promote self-consciousness and self-transcendence. It's a way to remind ourselves we are not gods, we're really just human beings and human beings getting tripped up by our own pretensions to grandeur.
Or to put it another way, as the legendary wit Wavy Gravy once put it, "If you don't have a sense of humor it's not funny." Being able to laugh at the absurdity of modern existence from time to time may be the best antidote to the over-the-top heaviness of our times.
Egocentrism, ethnocentrism, self-importance, and taking oneself too seriously all come out of the "self-cherishing, self-grasping" mind. Ego can get very pompous, and humor, irony, satire are all ways we can transcend those attachments. Something I learned and taught long ago was "It never hurts when you're laughing." And when we can laugh, fear has no grip on us.
The challenges to live a life of good humor and goodwill may be great indeed, but I truly believe the secret of a successful life is to do whatever it takes to meet our life challenges the best we're able with what we have, and to have a sense of humor throughout it all. Then we turn seriousness into Siriusness, and move from heaviness to the Stars.
To this end, two things to consider:
"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." - Groucho Marx
When Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought about western civilization, His response was: "I think it would be a good idea."
© Copyright 2010 Robert Wilkinson