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Wednesday, January 11, 2017


"A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people…We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
~ Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address

Recently I heard someone say, "What is lacking in our political discourse today is a sense of humor." Quickly agreeing, I also begin to ponder, "Yes, but there's not much to laugh about. What's funny about the way many people in the world are embracing and even celebrating the shadows of human nature rather than seeking the light of our better angels.

Humor, however, is not necessarily funny, even though this is the way many of us use the word today. Originally, humor was a term of medieval physiology pertaining to bodily fluids and how they determined the disposition, temperament, or we might say personality, of a person. As such, it became a term to describe temperament and disposition, whether a person was gloomy or cheerful, optimistic or pessimistic, happy or sad. A person's humor could be good or bad. Eventually, and perhaps because disposition and temperament often fluctuate unpredictably in people, the term became associated with a sense of absurdity or incongruity. Then, perhaps because absurd incongruity often makes us laugh, or at least smile, humor became funny,

Like so many words, humor is a verb as well as a noun.  The verb means to indulge or placate a situation or behavior that you really would prefer to not happen.  To humor someone or something is to tolerate, or agree while disagreeing.  We humor people and situations all of the time through silence, false praise, and even dishonest agreement.

So, back to the original statement, "What is lacking in our political discourse today is a sense of humor."  Yes, and No.

First, No! Actually there is probably too much indulging, placating, tolerating, silence, false praise, and dishonest agreement going on around and in us today.  We let slide harmful comments and actions that incite and encourage our darker dispositions and temperaments. We humor people simply because of their social or economic positions, or political office.  We put up with a lot of nonsense and destructive behavior in others and in ourselves.

Second, Yes! We desperately need to regain our sense of absurdity and incongruity in life and nurture the ability to laugh - not at each other, but rather with each other and at ourselves. We appear to have lost our human ability to sense and express how silly and inconsequential is so much of how we spend our lives. This "sense of humor" keeps us grounded, literally by reminding us that in the end we are dirt, water, and air spending a few rotations and orbits on a chunk of dirt, water, and air hurling through endless space and time.

In the end, we need to take life seriously by not indulging and ignoring our human capacity for fear, hatred, and violence.  We also need to lighten up. Smile, laugh, and share the simple joy (and absurdity) of life. By doing so we sow seeds of kindness, care, and compassion - our better angels!

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