Re-Imagining Humour

Humour and taboo, or being humorous about taboos, this is personally one of the provocations I find myself most attracted to, especially around people who take seem to themselves way too seriously. I find respite in David Fleming’s entry on humour and its role in conversation and congruence building…allowing people who engage with it to relax enough to speak freely, as through humour, as he says, there is an invitation not to take oneself too seriously…

What comes up to me is cultural differences affecting humour or what one might feel one can be humorous about. When David Fleming refers to taking delight in paradoxes, I find that even the possibility of doing so might be tainted by the cultures one comes from, or maybe, better yet with how paradoxes are even welcome in certain cultures.

To use a concrete example: coming from Venezuela, taking things seriously is rare, even in the midst of the grimmest situations we engage in humour. And I am not necessarily saying this is a good way to relate to EVERYTHING, ALL THE TIME. At times I have wondered the extent to which not taking oneself, one’s lives and/or country seriously is a defense mechanism, a defense against accepting the reality of who we are as a people and as a nation… but that’s just what we Venezuelans do, joke about everything, all the time.

On the other hand, I will refer to Germans, not being German but having lived in the country for more than five years, and having had the privilege to live and work amongst the most relaxed variety of these particular group of humans, the first thing that struck me was how seriously they take themselves, ALL THE TIME. And again, this is not a criticism of their way of being. In taking oneself seriously I see a sense of healthy self esteem (as opposed to Venezuelans) and with taking themselves seriously they are able to build upon ideas, they have a vision and in taking it seriously are able to make it concrete (Pandora’s Box…).

But what comes when I compare these two cultures to each other, is something I have been thinking a lot around David’s work. I feel that as humans we are part of several influences at different levels, so I find that if Germans and Venezuelans (for ex.) can get over their cultural differences there is a chance for the more universal type of humour David refers to, or at least my interpretation of it.

It might come down to what we identify with and how we relate to the tags we think we ought to carry and maybe when questioning these tags, or even relinquishing them for a little time, we might see how much fun it is to laugh (in a one-horse open sleigh)haha…

Similarly for me (dan) I have experienced humor in different cultures. What is funny in one culture, is not funny in another. A person that has a genuinely humorous disposition notices these subtleties and is able to adapt, and respond, to the humour of the given culture, is someone that has truly developed this universal skill.

It was interesting, while in Thailand, to notice this. I went to Thailand with a group of 52 other Americans, as part of the Peace Corps. By the end of the two years only about 30 of us remained. Upon reflection, it was the looser, more humorous, of the bunch that seemed to thrive, and immerse into Thai culture. Similarly, I saw the experience of intercultural immersion, loosen people, as they quickly learned that rigidity, and stiffness, did not help.

I have also had some strange experiences with humor. In some instances, another person’s humor has made me quite uncomfortable. When coming back from China, people would make derogatory remarks (which, they viewed as being humorous). An example would be someone mimicking a Chinese accent and talking about eating dog (which, is generally not common in mainland China). This was the same for me when returning from India, and Thailand as well. As Marcela alluded to earlier, it feels that one’s humour is inextricably linked to one’s worldview. If one’s worldview is narrow and insular, it is likely their humour will be the same.

Perhaps my favorite jokes are the jokes that are often jokingly called ‘Dad Jokes’. These kind of jokes are often very simple, but clever. They are jokes that can be told in front of all audiences, kids and adults the same. I would imagine even in Germany there is a category of ‘Dad Jokes’. These jokes are inherently accessible, inclusive and life affirming. These jokes have the potential to spread joy, and open people up. They are soft, and kind.

However, not everybody in the world enjoys being soft, and kind, the same way everyone is not a ‘Dad’. The humour in the high school boys locker room, and the mechanics shop — the more lewd, borderline offensive, camaraderie based humor — is equally as necessary as the kind, soft humour. There is a diversity of humours. It takes presence, and intuition, to know when certain kinds of humor are appropriate, especially when crossing cultures!

Lead Author: Marcela Scarpellini

Marcela was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, a strange and magic place which substantially shaped her understanding of life. Born to immigrant parents into a cornucopia of cultures and landscapes helped her accept that the world is big enough to fit us all and to embrace our different ways of existing. As she grew older and more aware of the consequences and implications of power dynamics and inequality an urge to change things started to develop. This led her to study law.

During her years in university she explored different places and people, studied theatre, film, healing therapies and other quirky activities, led by an insatiable curiosity and an almost compulsive desire to understand the complex systems and dynamics that shape our societies, which she assumed would help her figure out “the solution” to our dilemmas… that was quite exhausting and even if fun, not the smartest way to study the world.

So, she took a step back, decided to focus on environmental and indigenous rights to see what she could do to contribute to these causes. Marcela understood that inner work would be pivotal for developing the strength and clarity needed to take on bigger challenges, so she trained to become a yoga teacher, which is currently a fun side job she engages with while trying to figure out hernext steps.

Still full of questions, she continues to explore topics such as death, grief, transitioning societies and is slowly getting inspired by the possibilities that play and theatre can have on enacting social and emotional change.

Marcela recently gave a TEDx talk, you can find it below:

The world does not need to be a better place | Marcela Scarpellini | TEDxEhrenfeld — YouTube

And a fun song that Marcela suggests you check out:

I Like Giants-Kimya Dawson+Lyrics — YouTube

Anchor Author: Daniel Rudolph

Daniel Rudolph is interested in exploring alternative, experiential learning opportunities for people of all ages. He is passionate about forming community, and building public spaces for meaningful, transformational gathering. Currently he is spending a lot of his time learning juggling and facilitating gatherings. He also enjoys writing and sharing poetry.

Dan, and a small team, are in the process of publishing a series of articles titled ‘Live Human Signposts’ that showcases individuals that have taken alternative paths to higher education and/or are pursuing regenerative livelihoods, which is being commissioned by the Ecoversities Alliance. In March, Dan will begin an apprenticeship in Vermont at the MAPLE Monastic Academy.

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