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What is humour?
Humour is the ability to realise that not everything in life can or should be taken seriously. This particularly applies to yourself. There is immeasurable value in being able to laugh at your own follies.
Never trust a person who lacks a sense of humour. They are often arrogant, boring, ingenuine and phoney. They are taking themselves way too seriously.
Some people like to be the centre of attention; they are insecure and want you to like them. Taoism does not encourage this kind of behaviour.
Humour makes life much better
Be sincere. Be genuine. But do not forget to laugh. The Way of Chuang Tzu is an excellent book to read. It features many tongue-in-cheek lessons about life, human nature and social conventions.
Chuang Tzu illustrates how humour can help maintain balance.
So much in life is an invention. The invention becomes so widely accepted that it becomes the convention and nobody thinks to question it. Consider money...
What if somebody gave you a post-it note and said, "This is money, you can buy things with it." You would laugh at the absurdity of the idea.
Yet we would readily accept a state-endorsed piece of paper and regard it as legal tender.
We accept the idea that a piece of paper has value because somebody else says it does. It is not the piece of paper that matters - it is the idea.
How much of what you take for granted is really just a convention; an idea made into a cultural habit? How many things in life that we take seriously are really quite absurd? Maybe everything?
How many times are we upset because somebody challenges our beliefs, our opinions or our lifestyle?
Children see the absurdity of things and laugh without reserve or fear. They are not so bothered by conventions and rules.
The laughter of children may not always be appropriate but it is usually genuine and spontaneous. Modern life often requires people to stifle emotion and this can result in a lot of personal tension.
Laugh a lot
Laughter is a very positive approach to many situations. But not all... People habitually fall into the habit of worrying and becoming stressed.
We invest the most mundane situations with unnecessary emotions - waiting in a queue makes us tense, not finding a parking spot, speaking at a meeting, having to pay more than we want to...
Get over yourself
Are we taking ourselves too seriously? Does it really matter what the other person thinks? Will you look back in a week and wonder why you felt so upset? Will you even remember the incident at all?
Back to nature
Try going to the coast and walking along the tide line first thing in the morning when nobody is around. Faced with the immensity of the ocean, your worries will seem small.
Look up at the sky and consider that it has always been there and perhaps always will be. How important are we? And how silly?
Mocking is not humour
The Tao Te Ching says that people may laugh when you speak. Their ignorance makes them embarrassed and uncomfortable. They lash out by being mean spirited. They mock, belittle and deride.
Shakespeare wrote that "sarcasm is the lowest form of wit". Some people genuinely see this as being an endorsement of sarcasm which in itself is rather hilarious. In fact, it means quite the opposite.
Shakespeare's joke is this: sarcasm lacks wit and it's use indicates that the user is witless.
Sarcasm vs wit
The distinction between wit and sarcasm is simple. 'Wit' is defined as being inventive thought, quick understanding, keen intelligence, aptitude, humour.
Sarcasm is used to convey contempt. It is sneering, scoffing, mocking, taunting, ridiculing. See the difference?
I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I can see you are unarmed.
21 May 1998
Last updated 24 March 2022