We are living in exceedingly strange times. Nine months ago Scots were being cajoled and entreated to remain in the Union. Today those same beseeching voices are demonising us as the hirsute hordes, poised to breach Hadrian’s Wall and wreak havoc on the south. But it’s all right, I’m not going to write about that – or rather, I am, though not directly…
The thing that saved me from apoplexy during the independence referendum, and continues to do so during this general election campaign, is humour. I don’t see much of it in the mainstream media, but there’s plenty to be found in the alternative sources of news and comment; and I’m sure it’s for that as much as anything else that people are increasingly turning away from the newspapers and television. As the Charlie Hebdo killings highlighted, in this mad, troubled world we need and must stand up for humour more than ever.
Now I am not one of the undecided in these matters, as I guess most readers of this blog will know, and the other blogs and online sites I frequent tend to reflect my own leanings. I recognise that with that comes the danger that one simply ends up in a great echo chamber, but it’s one at least that echoes a good deal of the time with laughter rather than howls of despair or indignation.
There are two or three blogs in particular that I have found to become more and more entertaining as the general invective becomes more and more preposterous. By ridiculing outlandish or mendacious claims, and doing so in an intelligent, well-informed and amusing way, they neutralise the potentially toxic effect of unbridled enmity and help us to see it for what it mostly is, which is fear – fear of what seems unknown, or is misunderstood or even simply different.
I have to acknowledge, of course, that this is partisan humour I’m talking about, and that what amuses me won’t amuse everyone, especially if they hold opposing views to mine; but at least by having been made to laugh at something, I’m less likely to feel the need to retaliate, and this way humour can help lower the temperature, person by person.
We encourage people to use humour – for slightly different reasons – on Dark Angels courses. Here it’s not so much to neutralise enmity but to show up the self-aggrandising codswallop that so often passes for language in the business world for what it really is. So we re-write a corporate vision statement in the tone of voice of one of the seven deadly sins, or we make a pitch for a bank as if it were a chapter of Three Men In A Boat. There’s nothing like it for revealing the shortcomings of the original writing, and again it puts people in a good mood rather than leaving them with their heads in their hands.
So perhaps it’s a sense of optimism that’s the greatest boon of humour. Poke fun at something, watch the balloon deflate, and one realises that things can be different, that change is possible and stuckness, negativity and fear don’t have to carry the day.
Laugh? I nearly cried.