6th October 2021
HOM: Finding Humour
‘Humour is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place’.
When Aristotle identified humour as a virtue (also included by Alain de Botton in his list of ten virtues for the modern world), I feel sure he wasn’t suggesting we all become comedians. If so I would surely fail because while I can enjoy a well told joke , I’m really bad at telling them, but I hope that doesn’t make me a bad person.
We may have heard of a person described as being of ‘good humour’ which I think gets nearer to what we mean when we say, that humour is a virtue. Someone who is good humoured generally has a cheerful disposition, and is usually willing to give people the benefit of the doubt if someone upsets them.
Seeing the funny side to a situation and of oneself is a sign that we understand there may be a gap between what we want to happen and what life or we might actually deliver.
Alain de Botton writes that ‘often there is a gap between what we dream of being and what we actually are, what we hope other people will be like and what they are actually like. Like anger humour springs from disappointment, but it’s disappointment optimally channelled. It’s one of the best things we can do with our sadness.’
It’s also something that enables us to be more forgiving of others because we recognise that even with the best will in the world we may fall short and that is very grounding.
People of good humour recognise human fallibility because they too have failed and instead of condemning, will gently and good humouredly support their neighbour.
Conversely the person who lacks good humour is likely to be rigid towards others, unable to admit their own weakness or show vulnerability. Lacking the ability to see the humour in the gap between their own ideals and how they actually live, they will be harsh towards others.
The virtue of humour involves humility, forgiveness (towards oneself as well as others) and empathy, leading to a kindly disposition. So perhaps this is the virtue which is parent to all the others? It certainly can save difficult situations or relationships. As Mark twain said, ‘Humour is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place’.