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What’s So Funny About Armageddon?
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"“This isn’t funny. America has just entered the darkest of chapters. How on earth can I be laughing?” That’s what I thought to myself after cracking up over the Saturday Night Live skit by Aziz Ansari about the election of Donald Trump.
Television coverage of January’s inauguration had left me emotionally spent, and now it felt really, really good to laugh. Yet I also felt guilty about my laughter. Is it right to laugh when it feels like Trump’s election has brought Armageddon much closer to reality?
In hard times, humor is often a source of comfort. But is there more to it than that? I had assumed that joking about Trump’s election or the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union (also known as “Brexit”) was simply a form of denial, a way to avoid facing the challenges of an uncomfortable new reality. As I sat down with the nation of America, gathered around their TV sets and laptops, it occurred to me that perhaps something more profound was happening. Humor’s role in our response couldn’t be so easily limited to comfort-and-denial. In fact, the latest research suggests that to take a wise decision, it really helps to have a sense of humor.
THE SCIENCE OF WISDOM AND HUMOR
It may come as a surprise to learn that both wisdom and humor are today subjects of serious scientific inquiry. Even more unexpected, perhaps, is research suggesting the two fields are closely related. In 2013, neuroscientist Dilip Jeste published a review of the various definitions of wisdom currently used by the scientific community. The review startled many with its suggestion that humor is actually a key component of wisdom.
WISE HUMOR, NOT MEAN JOKES
All the same, I still couldn’t completely shake off my sense of unease about laughing. In social situations, humor can be wielded as a weapon and can seem to me pretty much like the antithesis of the compassion which leading researchers associate with wisdom. However, Webster stresses that wise humor does not refer to sarcasm or malicious teasing.
So, Aziz Ansari was not simply enabling me to hide from reality. In fact, research suggests that humour can play a critical role in our response to challenging times. It can increase our understanding of a situation by introducing us to new perspectives. Humour can help build our resilience so we can rally to respond, rather than running down and burning out. It can also help us build empathy with our adversaries. And finally, like Aziz Ansari in his SNL cold open, it can help us present our case in a warm and human fashion.
It seems wise humor is a weapon that can play a part in both improving our lives and charting a path forward through the uncertain political landscape.
Perhaps wise humor is no laughing matter after all."
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