When Humor Hurts, When Humor Heals

For some, it's a familiar scenario. You've been sitting for hours already in the stuffy boardroom. You and other key personnel in your organization have been trying to solve a sticky corporate problem that just defies solution. Nobody seems to be seeing eye to eye. Nerves are already on edge. You've got a life of your own. So have your colleagues. When will you get out of this place?

Then, without warning, one of you says something funny. Everybody roars with laughter. (Or are they just pretending?) Now, there are two possibilities.

Could be that this was just what the doctor ordered. A sudden and powerful release of pent-up emotions. Muscles that were tensed up a moment ago are now relaxed. With renewed vigor, you get back to the business at hand. So you'll get home a little late tonight - so what?

Alternatively, the joke - or perhaps more accurately, the wisecrack - sounds awful funny for a moment, but the status quo quickly returns. The tension in your muscles, and in the air, doesn't dissipate; on the contrary it intensifies. The only one in the room who possibly feels some emotional release is the guy who made the "humorous" comment, and even with him, it doesn't last long. It's quickly replaced by a feeling of emptiness, even depression.

And of course, there could be one hapless man or woman among the audience who not only feels edgy, but positively humiliated.

Life is full of trials and tribulations. We are surrounded by aggravating people, plans that didn't work out the way we intended, situations that challenge our very sanity. We can't always change the facts, but we can change the way we view a certain situation. And to bring such positive changes about, we can surely find no more efficient catalyst than humor.

We know how humor can improve relationships. Even the healing potential of humor is today openly acknowledged by the medical profession.

A good joke can be a spontaneous response to a certain situation. It doesn't have to be the kind that you see posted all over the Internet or printed in a book. It doesn't need to be funny enough to make people slap their sides in hysterics. If it produces a good feeling in those who hear it, it has achieved its purpose. Nothing more is required.

The problem is that many people fail to appreciate the fine but very distinct line between genuine, healthy humor and cynicism or sarcasm. That is dangerous. Many a school teacher, for example, whether innocently or maliciously, has ruined a child for life with his or her warped sense of humor.

Humor is a wonderful tool that helps to make the world a better place, but we must be careful that our personal brand is not really cynicism in disguise. A psychologist suggests these guidelines to help us distinguish between the two concepts:

  • How do you feel after your humorous comment is broadcast. Do you feel a sense of relief, or only emptiness?

  • Is anyone in your audience forcing himself to laugh, while others are laughing at his expense? If so, that's not humor, my friend!
  • Examine your motives. What inspired you to crack that joke? A desire to calm others down or make them happy, or a desire to relieve your own destructive emotions such as anger, frustration or jealousy?

May your day be filled with laughter. And above all, may you merit to spread all those positive feelings to those around you.

Azriel Winnett is creator of Hodu.com - Your Communication Skills Portal. This popular free website helps you improve your communication and relationship skills in your business or professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene. New articles added almost daily. Visit Azriel's Effective Communication blog at: http://hodu.com/blog.

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