Friday, December 30, 2011

The Etiquette of Humor III

The Etiquette of Humor

Humorous conversation should not be made to be about someone, especially in a group, even among a group of close friends. “Whew,” remarked a friend of mine once after a differ party where a woman we both knew laughingly dissected the life of another friend, “if she talks like that about so-and-so, I wonder what she says about me!”

One of the kindest people I know, when faced with this situation, immediately halts the speakers by saying, “Goodness, so-and-so always has such nice things to say about you!” and then immediately changes the topic or follows it up with a lighthearted joke. When confronted with a question about someone or a topic she doesn’t particularly care for, she finds something positive to say, even if it is about the condition of someone's front lawn, the high polish on someone’s car, or a feel-good news story she recently saw on the news. She knows that public gossip about others is an unbefitting topic and that joking about someone behind their back is the same as backstabbing them (only in public, there are eyewitnesses - so, be careful!)  

Consequently, the person who does not engage in mean-spirited joking at another’s expense is generally known as someone who never says a mean thing about another.

No matter how strongly tempting it may be to pass along a nasty joke at someone else’s expense or to join in a group talking unkindly about one group or another, don’t do it. It doesn’t just defame the character of the other person; it defames you in the process. Tactful people keep their prejudices to themselves, taking care not to revel them in social jesting.

If you find another person’s joke distasteful or totally unacceptable, try to change the subject as soon as possible. If you care too intensely about a subject, it is dangerous to allow yourself to say anything. That is, if you can only expound your own fixed point of view, then you should never mention the subject except as a platform speaker. If, on the other hand, you are able to listen with an open mind, you may safely speak on any topic. After all, any mutually interesting topic may lead to one about which you don’t agree. Then take care! It is much better to withdraw unless you can argue without bitterness or bigotry. Argument between coolheaded, skillful opponents may be an amusing game, but it can be very, very dangerous for those who become hotheaded and ill-tempered.

It is like rubbing salt into an open wound to make such careless remarks about someone’s personal appearance such as “What happened to Susie’s weight? She went away to school fit as a fiddle and returned looking as if she swallowed it?” or “So, what’s really wrong with the Jones’ son?”

These questions may sound unbelievable, but they are the types of “set-up” questions many people continue to ask. If you have any sense, you wouldn’t repeat them or allow them to proliferate.

If, for example, you’re speaking with your grandmother, you wouldn’t tell her jokes about getting old, just as you wouldn’t make off-color remarks or complain about having to walk all the way through a congested mall to a person who is disabled and cannot walk.

It is not only unkind to ridicule or criticize others, but the tables can well be turned on those who do. A young girl asked a boy she hoped to date, “How can you possibly go out with her?” “It’s easy,” he replied, “she’s my sister!”

It is also tactless to ask someone why they are not married, why they have no children, only have one arm, or why they are wearing a bandage or eye patch. Never ask someone whether he or she has had cosmetic surgery because they look so much better than they used to! The person who is ill will only be depressed that it shows, the person who looks better does not appreciate your attributing the improvement to cosmetic surgery, even if that is the case. In other words, there is no need to comment at all about a great number of things, just because we can. Many topics are extremely personal and should be respected as such. If a person wants to talk about a personal matter, he or she should be allowed to initiate the conversation; it is never up to us to do so. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Etiquette of Humor II


Careful consideration of another’s tolerance for humor should be considered prior to the utilization of it.  Nearly all the faults or mistakes commonly made in invoking humor in conversation are caused by not thinking or a by a lack of consideration of what is considered humorous rhetoric. No one responds favorably to debauched humor, which only evokes the need for common etiquette. Consequently, there is a need for etiquette in humor as a natural companion of conversation. 

When a person can tell a story about how their car broke down on the way to the party and have everyone laughing, they’re jesting. Jesting, like the Italian scherzo, is light-hearted in nature. Yet, someone who constantly tries to be funny is generally a bore. Relying on sincerity, clarity and an intelligent choice of conversational subjects, in particular the inclusion of appropriate humor, is safer and therefore a more attractive feature in social behavior.

Some individuals become the life of the party because, in their presence, all feel included and welcome, participating in the repartee like component parts of a fast-moving humorous composition. The twists, personally delivered to the subject by the storyteller, delight listeners and lure them into further discourse. These discussions sparkle with humor and goodwill.

Other individuals talk and talk to the point that eyes glaze over. Rather than probing for appropriate subject matter; these individuals often race to the finish line without first declaring it a race. These discussions receive minimal response, and in polite company, are tolerated but not always comfortably received. The occasional eyebrow may lift across a crowd of listeners during the story being shared. This results in irregularities by which the group disperses at the first sign of an open exit.

Serving food or a bottle of wine at a party provides a good opener for the introduction of humorous discourse. “This is a beautiful D’Arenburg wine from Australia, gently handled through the winery,  guided through the Demoisy crusher, and openly fermented by traditional foot treading, which not only takes 18 months of barrel maturation in old French and American oak to tickle the palate, but to also get rid of the stains on their feet.” 

When complimenting the host or hostess for the time he or she invested in the eloquence of his or her presentation, an individual may respond with a small pleasantry such as, “I have so little time to be creative in the kitchen that this is a real treat!”  this statement can then be followed by the polite, “Do you cook?” in order to move the conversation along or as a potential opening to further humorous repartee, such as “Only when I have to.”  

Asking questions can both initiate and carry on a conversation. Requesting advice can win instant popularity. Asking an avid photographer which type of camera they’d recommend you take on a holiday to the mountains is a good way to break the ice. However, humorously recanting a story about a time when you stopped by the side of the mountain to take a photograph of a scenic shot, only to accidentally trip and drop your camera 2,000 feet down the side of the cliff, can win you instant notoriety whilst eagerly engaging listeners. These are the people who receive the most invitations to social gatherings. Their stories delight others and help make the party a success. 

Humorous compliments, when well crafted, can help alleviate shyness many people have about being too personal in public. If you are one who finds it difficult to deliver a firsthand compliment, you can instead give one “once removed.”  “I hear from Jake that you’re a sharpshooter at the paintball range. What I want to know is, how do you avoid looking like you were just tossed around in a rainbow machine when you leave the park?” This self-directed quip does not leave the receiver of a compliment with a mere “Thank you” response or a self-depreciating “I’m not that good,” with nothing further to say. The humorous question added on at the end of a pleasant compliment gives the receiver of it an opportunity to laugh and continue the conversation with something relevant to add. 

When a nice thought about someone crosses your mind, share it. If people did this more frequently the world would be a happier place. Remember, however, that a compliment is delectable, whereas flattery is indigestible. 

If you are the individual being complimented you will want to show your appreciation and pleasure. Do not belittle the compliment or simper it with coquettish gestures. If someone compliments you on your outfit, do not reply with “Oh this thing,” or “Are you blind?”  The appropriate response to any compliment is to say “Thank you,” or “I’m so glad you like it,” or the pleasant “Aren’t you nice to say so.” If you wish to add a humorous self-directed quip to break the ice you could say something like “It’s new. I hope I remembered to take off all the tags!” This imagery is humorous and generally elicits a laugh or two. 

Humorous jesting applied to compliments is permissible and generally desirable in social discourse. Unpleasant remarks, or remarks that make another person uncomfortable, are definitely in bad taste. Just as jests that insinuate or conceal a hidden message. The old adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  The same adage applies to humor, “If it’s not funny for everyone present, it’s not humor.” 

Humor can be used to make someone less self-conscious of a perceived fault. Imagine that you are at a party and accidentally get a run in your stockings. If you have a spare in your purse, you can go change. If there’s a store nearby, you can always graciously bow out and go buy a pair, returning of course with an hors d’oeuvre or a bottle of wine for the hostess.  If there’s no escape, you can always place a Band-Aid over the run turning a flaw into surrealist artistic expression. This "silent movie" behavior uses positive Freudian methods of free association, where poetry and prose draw upon the world of the mind, unharnessing surrealistic humor. Without speaking, it is there for the wandering eye to discover. This transfers the laugh from the awkwardness a woman might feel with the run in her stockings at a dinner party to the inanimately humorous Band-Aid openly failing to conceal the run in a: “If you can’t beat them, join them” attitude. 

Transferring human frailty to material flaws is artistic and aesthetically funny. It illustrates absurdity in social values, visually expressing cynicism about conventional ideas of form and beauty. The ability to laugh at oneself has the broadest appeal, affording an individual the appearance of self-confidence without having to draw negative attention to themselves by complaining, in particular about something that cannot at the present time be fixed. The Band-Aid strategy is therefore instantly recognized as something that allows someone else to hold onto a semblance of dignity in a witty way.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Etiquette of Humor

The Etiquette of Humor


Humorous conversation is the utilization of wit and oratory with the intent to bring eloquence to an exchange of thought.  Fortunately, it is not essential to be humorous to be considered someone with whom others are delighted to talk. An ability to express interest in another person and to express our own thoughts and feelings clearly and simply is sufficient for ordinary conversation. 

Humorous conversation, like ordinary conversation, should be a manner of equal, give-and-take. Humorous conversation is employed when one individual, for whom humorous conversation comes easily, naturally recognizes it as such and in turn makes a concerted effort to utilize humor without monopolizing the conversation, but rather to raise the level of satisfaction in the name of common interest. 

In the same exchange, the individual less comfortable with employing humor should accept these overtures as the other’s attempt to bring a sense of panache to the conversation, which is considered by most an intellectual delight, and so should be graciously received as such. On rare occasion, the initiation of humorous conversation may lead to an equally balanced, delightful give-and-take discourse in return, and so should be encouraged in honor of conscious solidarity.
There is a simple rule by which good humor can be measured: equal satisfaction and common delight. 

If you dread interacting with people because you are concerned you will not be able to think of something witty to say, remember that most humorous conversational errors are committed not by those who joke too little but by those who joke around too much. This does not place sole blame on the latter person’s error alone. Often times, silence disproportions conversation to an equally uncomfortable experience whereby instinctual and behavioral coping skills are invoked to navigate a dreaded discussion toward an expedient conclusion. While there are some who forcefully speak, speaking is not synonymous with talking or humorous conversation and is instinctively recognized as an experience of the inverse - all take and no give.
When a non-conversationalist engages in discourse with a conversationalist, the person, be it a speaker or listener, can become overwhelmed to the point that they do not hear a word that is said by the other because he or she is trying so desperately to think of what to say next. 

The etiquette of humorous discourse, if honored by both participants, can alleviate concern and serve as a model upon which to discourse. The practical rule of humorous engagement is to converse by the framework within which humorous discourse can be carried out. Such rules may be general or specific, and there will notably be variances between cultures, however, when in principle applied, should satisfy the most discerning.
Rules of humorous conversation provide those who utilize humor direction to engaging humorous conversation with a degree of confidence that their efforts are conducted within a defensible framework. It provides individuals wishing to utilize humor in conversation with a clearly delineated set of responsibilities and constraints.
Utilizing humor in conversation should be done so with a degree of mindfulness. When and with whom humor may be used, which forms are appropriate and acceptable, and what evidence is required to support their use should be given due consideration. Haphazardly introducing humor into a conversation should be avoided until the benefits of doing so would be considered meritorious.  
Humorous conversation is all about timing. It means not rushing ahead without thinking, paying attention to the expression of the person with whom you are talking; and listening attentively, in other words, a sympathetic listener. It is important to really hear what is being said. A fixed expression of opinion or indifference can cause your mind to wander far away resulting in disproportionate silence or self-centered conversation.
Everyone loves to talk to a captivated listener. As such, it is considerate to engage all people present in the conversation. As a rule of thumb, humor should be utilized in proportion equal to the individuals present, the one who uses humor more than one-third of the time is not having a conversation but is giving a speech. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Men's Humor

In a study on gender differences in humor, Allan Reiss, MD, concluded that men and women cognitively experience humor in distinctive ways. 

Reportedly, women experience greater intensity with respect to pleasurable responses to novel experiences noting that men's expectation of humor diminished their pleasure. 

However, in a article on Gender Differences in Humor, I proposed that novel or non-traditional humor would potentially appeal more to men, resulting in a similar executive processing effect in the brain. 

Looking to late-night talk shows as an example of humor that offers the greatest variety of news stories, it is easy to see why late-night talk shows attract more male than female viewers. The argument that late-night talk shows are entirely misogynist may not be as founded as previously considered. Naturally, progressive content with respect to world news and the economic downturn, which has proportionally cost more men than women jobs (resulting in a sort of "man-cession" or male-affected recession), would rank higher in terms of novel news stories and subsequently favorable responses from men. 

Emotionally, I enjoy the lighter side of comedy: cute babies, funny puppies, inspirational or witty comments on thriving, and the balancing out of social inequalities. 

However, my analytically-dominated brain prefers more cutting-edge, societally sharp humor often associated with late-night comedy shows. As a woman, I am uncomfortable with the constant reference to sexual content, however, it is expected with respect to the limitations in outdated pre- and post-industrial thinking. 

*Contains explicit content

While late-night talk shows could attract more viewers by incorporating a more balanced emotional and analytical perspective on humor, the main purpose is aimed at offering humorous perspectives on the crumbling Cold War superpower (politics, culture, media). These are not light-hearted issues. Accordingly, fluffy bunnies, equality, and puppies vs. babies do not fit the theme. 

In addition to differing gender responses to late-night talk shows, I see the primary differences in gender ratings as a natural result of the human brain's response to an underdeveloped (in the case of women) or overdeveloped (in the case of men) nucleus accumbens, or NAcc, which is part of the mesolimbic reward center in the brain. 

Gender Differences in Humor

In 2005, Allan Reiss, MD, understood an imaging study to show how men and women cognitively experience humor. 

The study showed that for women the areas of the brain that are activated while processing "humorous comics" include language processing and working memory components of the brain. Women also reportedly responded with greater intensity with respect to novel experiences. 

These results indicate that men and women differ in how much they appreciate humor and how they process it. Interestingly enough, when men were "expecting" humor, their brain's reward center was not as significantly activated as was with the case of the women in the study. Reiss pointed out that "If subsequent studies show that women's reward center and other regions of the brain are more sensitive to emotional stimuli, including negative stimuli, that could help explain why depression strikes twice as many women as men, potentially leading to new therapies." 

Reiss's study, for the first time, showed that the mesolimbic reward center, which is responsible for the rewarding feelings we experience which follow pleasurable events, was also activated. 

I'd further infer that novel or non-traditional humor would potentially appeal more to men, resulting in similar executive processing effects. The fact that a woman's mesolimbic reward center of the brain responded more favorably to novel stimuli may be due to this area having been more conditionally repressed, naturally responding to historically subservient societal roles. This suppression appears to have weakened the nucleus accumbens, NAcc, which is part of the mesolimbic reward center of the brain associated with processing pleasantly unexpected experiences. 

More than this being a gender study, I believe the diminished cognitive effects of humor on the brain are more associated with neglect in men, women, and children than on gender alone and would yield similar neural results when reactivated. Maintaining a healthy amuse system would yield greater cognitive and physiological benefits for everyone. 

This study also clearly demonstrates that there are positive effects resulting from humor as a physiological and cognitive defense against depression. 

For more information on this study... 

The Amuse System

The Amuse System is the body's natural healing system that responds favorably to positive attitudes, thoughts, moods, and emotions (love, hope, optimism, caring, intimacy, joy, laughter, and humor), and negatively to negative attitudes (hate, hopelessness, pessimism, indifference, anxiety, depression, loneliness, etc.). Maintaining a healthy amuse system can improve the quality of your life by boosting your physical health and well-being. 

Dr. Franz Ingelfinger, New England Journal of Medicine, estimated that 85% of all human illnesses are curable by the body's own healing system. LaughterRemedy

"The simple truth is that happy people generally don't get sick." --Bernie Siegel, MD

The importance of activating the body's amuse system goes back to infancy and begins with the mother. In a study on mothers and infants, mothers who actively used humor to cope with stress had fewer respiratory infections - and so did their infants. Reportedly, these mothers also had higher levels of immunoglobulin A, that was passed along to their child through their milk. Studies also showed that mothers with low levels of IgA at the time of their babies' birth, had more illnesses in the first six weeks postpartum. It would appear that laughter is good for both mothers and infants.

While the amuse system is the body's natural coping agent against stress and disease, Gelotophobia afflicts millions of people around the world. The term is derived from two Greek words, gelos meaning "laughter" and phobos meaning "fear", to describe people who have a fear of being laughed "at". 

The cure for Gelotophobia is in maintaining a healthy amuse system, and the key to keeping our amuse system healthy resides in laughing. Research on stress-related hormones and humor ans shown that laughter reduces at least four neuroendocrine hormones associated with our body's stress response, including epinephrine, cortisol, dopac, and growth hormone. This is consistent with research showing that laughter reduces stress hormones. 

Understanding that our neurochemistry affects our body's nervous system and the neural processes such as cortical plasticity, we begin to pay more attention to how our emotions affect our health. In the best-selling book, Anatomy of An Illness, Norman Cousins, with the collaboration of his physician, described how he was able to successfully use his body's own amuse system as a natural healing agent, in order to cure himself of a crippling and irreversible disease watching old Groucho Marx's films! 

This book revolutionized the way Americans think about health and health care, and jump-started the field of mind-body medicine. Hundreds of books followed, including Deepak Chopra's Quantum Healing. While diagnosis of any disease should be left to a qualified medical physician, laughter and the ability to amuse oneself is obviously a critical component in activating the body's own immune and resistance systems to help it more easily and naturally overcome disease and stress. 

For more information on how our thoughts and emotions affect our health, I recommend reading Candice B. Pert's, Molecules of Emotion

The Amuse System - Originally posted by Sophly Laughing (Sophy "softly" Laughing) 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wit and Humor of the Bible

Wit and Humor of the Bible, published in 1892 by Marion D. Shutter, is an indispensable resource for exploring humor studies, as well as theological inquiries, and clearly demonstrates that humor permeates the Scriptures. The humorous verses and situations collected in this volume of work belong to numerous categories of humor: sarcasm, irony, wordplay, humorous imagery and exaggeration, and humorous situations. It is evident that humor brings God closer to the mind of man, which further attests to the fact that humor brings people together. 

In the preface, Shutter explained that while many have taken on the pathos and sublimity of the Bible, few have investigated its humor. Shutter claimed that he originally shared his work in an article published in an Eastern review, but that since had delivered a course of lectures on the subject to students at Lombard University, Galesburg, Ill. Shutter further explained that "it would be presumptuous to claim that these few pages exhaust the subject" and that "further research would no doubt bring to light instances that have escaped him." His intent, as he shared, was to "awaken interest in a long-neglected side" of the wisdom writings from the Bible. 

The introduction of the book captivated my interest. Shutter noted that "the highest literature should be found to contain" humor and that "we should expect to find it everywhere". This insight is one that I am encountering in every field of study, present and past alike. 

Shutter began by addressing the presumption that there would be "many persons" who would consider the title of his book alone as "flat blasphemy!" offered by a "flippant rogue" in "godless folly." He continued by immediately stating that it was not his intention to "cheapen or degrade sacred things" or to "depreciate the moral currency." 

While Shutter stated that "the Bible is not a collection of jests", he did explain that "it is a mistake to suppose that humor is incompatible with seriousness, earnestness and solemnity." 

"In human nature, the sources of laughter and tears lie close together, and the highest literature must express that nature in its entirety." 

Quoting Whipple, Shutter added, "It is an understood fact that mirth is as innate in the mind as any other original faculty. The absence of it in individuals or communities is a defect." 

"He who laughs," says the mother of Goethe, "can commit no deadly sin." 

"Bread of deceit is sweet to a man, but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel."  Notably, if we came across such sentences in high literature, we'd consider them "instances of genuine wit." 

Wit and Humor of the Bible is a fascinating read. As a pleasure book, it is deserving of many re-readings. As a resource, it is invaluable. On a personal note, it provides us with a glimpse of what people considered funny, or not (and why) in the early 1900s. It leaves no doubt as to why Shakespeare was said to be indebted to the Bible for much of his own satire. 

A reproduction of this book is available on Amazon

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Cure for Gelotophobia

Michael Titze is a German psychologist and author of several books on the subject of Therapeutic Humor and Gelotology. He was the initiator of the academic investigation of Gelotophobie (a person's fear of being laughed "at"). 

According to Titze, persons with Gelotophobie do not associate laughter as having a positive meaning or value. They do not exhibit Mitvoraussetzung (joy, exhilaration and exuberance).

 In fact, the laughter of others (even when not masking negativity such as in sarcasm or personal attacks, cultural, gender, or otherwise) threatens their self-esteem. Clinical observations indicated that these people primarily suffer from the fear that their social partners will laugh at them. These people constantly look for signs of disparaging, mocking laughter or behavior around them. 

The challenge living with Gelotophobikern has is that it lacks vitality, spontaneity and joy. That positive energie strand that reverberates in a laugh doesn't resonate when someone has been affected by the Gelotophobia bug. 

I see this as an epidemic that could be eliminated in a number of ways. Just get on the humor bicycle and take a ride. Tell a joke. 

Try Laughter Yoga at home with your kids. Consider it an opportunity to assess whether spontaneous laughter can arise from targeted activities such as this one, joking, or other humorous endeavors. 

*Since kids laugh so much more than adults, most people expect laughter from them so they don't freak-out when a kid laughs. Actually, even when a kid puts on an angry face, we still laugh. This tells me that there's a youthful energie strand could positively affect someone with Gelotophia. Maybe there is something to be said with being too grown-up after all. When we were kids, it was actually considered an insult. "Don't act so grown-up!" 

Nicholas A. Christakis is a Greek American physician and sociologist known for his research on social networks and the socioeconomic and biosocial determinants of health, longevity, and behavior. In 2009 and again in 2010, he was named a top global thinker by Foreign Policy magazine. In 2009, he was on Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world. 

According to Christakis, our behavior affects people as far away as 4 times removed, at which time the effect wears off. It would appear that our global biosphere community is the embodiment of 4 degrees of separation.

Taking this into account, Gelotophia is "No laughing matter". In my post on Epigrams in the Humor Analysis Academy I shared how death and humor can be seen as two aspects of the same phenomena, with one of those aspects always representing the parody of the other. 

Exercising a little ancient wisdom as handed down by our ancestors, we can transform tragic moments and thoughts into something humorous. If as a society we embrace the humor principle, our innate ability to laugh in the face of death can provide a balance against tragedy. This, indeed, would be one of the most pleasurable global studies upon which the world could embark, one that requires only participation. Laughter and humor can be shared by everyone

Laugh with someone today and they'll be more inclined to laugh with another, and so on, and so on, and so on until the regenerative power of life-giving laughter qubitly unites us all in coherence.

*In 1983, Josef Scheppach started an article dealing with the phenomenon of laughter with the words: (paraphrased) "It's really not ridiculously funny: We Germans lost our humor! We laugh only 6 times a day. 40 years ago, we laughed 18 times at a time when life was in every respect less funny."

Time to get our laugh back...