Sense of Humor

Biologically, there is only one quality which distinguishes us from animals: the ability to laugh. In a universe which appears to be utterly devoid of humour, we enjoy this supreme luxury. And it is a luxury, for unlike any other bodily process, laughter does not seem to serve a biologically useful purpose. In a divided world, laughter is a unifying force. Human beings oppose each other on a great many issues. Nations may disagree about systems of government and human relations may be plagued by ideological factions and political camps, but we all share the ability to laugh. And laughter, in turn, depends on that most complex and subtle of all human qualities: a sense of humour.

Certain comic stereotypes have a universal appeal. This can best be seen from the world-wide popularity of Charlie Chaplin’s early films. The little man at odds with society never fails to amuse no matter which country we come from. As that great commentator on human affairs, Dr Samuel Johnson, once remarked, ‘Men have been wise in very different modes; but they have always laughed in the same way.’

A sense of humour may take various forms and laughter may be anything from a refined tinkle to an earthquaking roar, but the effect is always the same. Humour helps us to maintain a correct sense of values. It is the one quality which political fanatics appear to lack. If we can see the funny side, we never make the mistake of taking ourselves too seriously. We are always reminded that tragedy is not really far removed from comedy, so we never get a lop-sided view of things.
This is one of the chief functions of satire and irony. Human pain and suffering are so grim; we hover so often on the brink of war; political realities are usually enough to plunge us into total despair. In such cicumstances, cartoons and satirical accounts of sombre political events redress the balance. They take the wind out of pompous and arrogant politicians who have lost their sense of proportion. They enable us to see that many of our most profound actions are merely comic or absurd. We laugh when a great satirist like Swift writes about war in Gulliver’s Travels. The Lilliputians and their neighbours attack each other because they can’t agree which end to break an egg. We laugh because we are meant to laugh; but we are meant to weep too. It is no wonder that in totalitarian regimes any satire against the Establishment is wholly banned. It is too powerful a weapon to be allowed to flourish.
The sense of humour must be singled out as man’s most important quality because it is associated with laughter. And laughter, in turn, is associated with happiness. Courage, determination, initiative - these are qualities we share with other forms of life. But the sense of humour is uniquely human. If happiness is one of the great goals of life, then it is the sense of humour that provides the key.

No comments:

Post a Comment