Biting and Cruel Humor, or Connecting Humor–Which are you?

Humor Is The Affectionate Communication of Insight~ Leo Rosten

I’ll admit that for most of my adult life, humor has been an enigma for me. It is currently a personal goal of mine to learn to use inspiring and relatable humor and always with an open heart.

Correspondingly, I’ll never forget the question a traditional healer asked me some 18 years ago in Peru. I was in South America to study the healing practices of this man’s Q’ero tribe. He, dressed in a traditional red-striped poncho, with a chullu—a traditional knit cap covering his ears, was playing a magical tune on his flute. The two of us—the elderly man and I—walked through a flower-filled meadow. He turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and a contagious, wild smile, and asked: “How will you gladden the hearts of the people who come to see you, Karen? It can’t all be just about the healing modalities, you know!” And with a wink, the healer resumed his lilting and mystical tune and began skipping and dancing to the music, light as a feather.

Transported back to the present moment, and lifted up by the energy of his playful style—in an unexpected moment of healing—I allowed myself to feel the tune and skip along with him in a way I had long since forgotten. Since then, I’ve been hooked on learning the secret behind this kind of humor.

In Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent, four-year-old Colton Burpo, while in heaven following a near-death experience, observes that one of God’s major qualities is a sense of humor. This fascinated me, and I began wondering what, exactly, God’s humor was like. Was it slap- stick? Teasing? Was it understandable by us, given the size of our minds compared to Gods’ mind? Obviously, a five-year-old understood that God has a humorous side—which is precisely why I want to ask Colton Burpo so many questions about his experience in heaven!

But then, there is the dark side of humor. I often recall friends having said, in a moment of anxiety or uncertainty, “Do you think [he, she] meant that joke as a serious comment?”, or “I know [he/she] didn’t mean it as a joke!”. Think about all the of the damage that kind of anxiety produces! Neuroscience, in fact, has confirmed that we build neural pathways in our brains around that which we allow ourselves to focus on.

Unfortunately, biting and cruel humor is found everywhere nowadays. It’s the stuff movies and reality television series are made of (think Mean Girls, Big Brother, The Bachelor). Now is the time for us to create boundaries around this type of modeling for our young folks. Boundaries that keep biting and cruel humor out of our lives. 

If this is you, what does it mean when you use humor to make a point when you’re really trying to say something serious? When you’re afraid to speak the truth in a direct way? Do you use humor to try and bring about change? Is your humor cutting? Belittling? Or is it enlightening? Leo Rosten, in the above quote, seems to interpret it as such.

In the Bible, God’s qualities are presented to us as healing, generous, compassionate, connecting, and as a means of spreading peace. Surely God’s humor includes these qualities. It would be logically inconsistent for God’s humor to be cruel, divisive, or humiliating. The former is something we could aspire to in our own use of humor if we were to use God’s qualities as guidance and focus as we develop our authentic selves.

This quality of humor that is connecting and relational has become my focus, as I reflect on the Quechuan healer’s “gladdening flute”, and light-hearted style I referenced earlier in the text. I believe that developing this idea is a good use of my time. No, it doesn’t come naturally, by any means. In fact, a correct observation is that I have yet to allow myself to let go enough to connect with humor in a playful manner 100% of the time. And yes, it can’t always be about the modalities—or the WORK, either! Balance always includes leisure or time for play.

Humor gives us respite and play in little bursts. Healing bursts, if you will.

Being mindful of our intentions each time we use humor is an important step in creating an aura of connection, likability, and
 love. Are our intentions to connect and uplift? To affirm and inspire? To bring a sense of practicality to the absurd? To gladden? We currently live in an environment of divisiveness, which is precisely why now is the time to be mindful of nurturing a connecting, affirming, and playful society.

Creating Heaven on Earth is a tall order, but being mindful of our use of humor is one way that very well may help create inspiration and connection.

I’ll bet God’s sense humor is connecting, playful, and warm. How about you? What do you think? Do you feel adept in the use of humor? Have you witnessed how humor either unifies or divides? Please leave your thoughts and feelings below, along with any advice you might have regarding your experiences with humor.

Please share this with friends and family whom you know might enjoy it, and feel free to connect with me to discuss the issue further. I’d truly like to assist in any way I can.
Happy All Saints’ Day!

Karen Pierce, LCSW


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