November 29, 2013

Humor Me: It’s about Relationship

Some days it’s hard to see the humor in anything.

News broadcasts bombard us with stories of tragedy in the Philippines, discord in Washington D.C., and teenagers playing the potentially fatal “knockout game” for fun. A friend’s child is severely injured in a motorcycle accident, and we can only stand by helplessly as a chronic illness saps the strength of a dearly loved family member. We wonder how we might afford to replace an 18-year old car when expenses continue to rise and salaries don’t. We shudder at the thought of the world our children will inherit.

We obviously can’t pretend none of that exists; we need to acknowledge it and walk through each reality, day by day. But we can choose to refuse to let it consume us. And humor is one way to avoid being sucked into the vortex of angst we sometimes feel around and within us.

As I was thinking about humor in my family – and remembering my years as a classroom teacher ­– I realized anew that it occurs in the context of relationship. Thus, I could attempt to explain multiple situations in which my husband and children and I laughed ourselves silly, or times when my students and I bantered and joked with each other. But the humor in the stories would likely fall flat in the retelling because it occurred as we interacted in relationships specific to us. Particular circumstances were funny because of our understanding of each other and our shared life experiences.

In fact, if we’re really engaged in relationship – transparent and honest – humor will naturally flow as we share our lives, foibles and all, with each other. Thus, we needn’t strive to purposely increase humor in our lives because, important as it is, it cannot be manufactured. Rather, if we see the value of humor to our emotional and intellectual health, we should aim to build and deepen our human relationships, and then humor will grow on its own.

Conversely, if we notice that our days are humorless – that we regularly shuffle through daily tasks and chores with absolutely no enjoyment, happiness, and wonder – we’d do well to examine the state of our relationships. Are we really relating to our spouses and children, or merely coexisting with them? Are we really engaged with our students, or only working through another set of lesson plans? And if we realize we’re in relational ruts, will we take responsibility to pull ourselves out?

Sometimes when I realize my daughters and I have gotten too wrapped up in our daily routine, I shake things up. I surprise them by tickling them out of the blue or initiating a silly game of chase. They’re 11 and 12, so we don’t do either regularly anymore. But that’s part of why it’s so effective. And after enjoying some good belly laughs together, we feel closer to each other, heartened, and ready to proceed.

What will work like that for your relationships today?

Photo Credit: James Bremner


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