Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Come on, laugh with me!

At 9:59 am on Monday morning, I was scurrying to class. I was probably going to be late to Organic Chemistry, but I accepted it and walked a little bit faster to compensate for my lateness. My i-pod was in, I was in the zone, I was wearing what I thought was a pretty cool outfit. Overall I was thinking pretty highly of myself, preparing myself for the day with a good attitude and with a hopeful smile. As I was walking up the stairs to Knott Hall, I lost my footing and fell up the stairs. Literally, up the stairs. My hands were on the ground, my knees rested on two stairs below me, it was just like the movies.

And as I raised myself up from the ground I started laughing. It was a slightly manic and inane laughter. I looked around noting that people were all around me, and I turned to the stranger next to me saying, “It’s okay dude, you can laugh, that was so embarrassing”. I was laughing, I figured he should be too, but he just smiled awkwardly and didn’t say anything.

If I wasn’t taking a course in the studies of humor, I wouldn’t think twice about this embarrassing tale, but I can’t help but feel its relevance now. I realized two important elements during my mishap on the stairs: 1) It was okay for me to laugh, because it had happened to me, and I was allowed to laugh at myself and 2) I needed to justify my own laughter by giving the person next to me permission to laugh. What a contradiction! I actually said to the boy, “its okay, you can laugh”, as if he wasn’t dying laughing inside anyway. For goodness sake, after I said it I felt so stupid.

My laughter in this situation was out of embarrassment and fear of the boys laughter next to me. it seems that it was okay for me to laugh, but I hesitated when thinking that he might. As Freud says, “the humorous attitude only concerns the person who makes them the object of it”. In this case, I made myself the object of the laughter, so as to abate any embarrassment I might have felt otherwise. Freud explains my actions perfectly when he said “…man adopts a humorous attitude towards himself in order to ward off possible suffering”. Laughing at myself not only hid my humiliation, but in some respects ridded me of it. I was not flawed or embarrassed because I could laugh at myself, and this was my justification.

When I consider the show that I put on for the boy walking to class next to me, I can’t help but be drawn to what Spencer says about the containment of emotion. This can also be applied to humor when he says that “It is commonly remarked that the suppression of external signs of feeling, makes the feeling more intense”. It seems that I might have already known this. I knew that the boy wanted to laugh; I knew that he was trying to hold in his laughter to spare my feelings, and thus I felt the need to make him comfortable in his laughter by telling him that it was okay.

Perhaps when I think about the boy in context with the piece by Spencer, I must consider that he probably did not laugh because he did not share the emotions that I was feeling that caused me to laugh. As Spencer more poetically states, “…among several persons who witness the same ludicrous occurrence, there are some who do not laugh, it is because there has arisen in them an emotion not participated in by the rest…”. The boy did not share the emotion that I was feeling. Looking back, he probably wished he wasn’t there because I had made it so obvious that I had tripped in front of him. If I hadn’t ridiculously cackled, he probably would have pretended that he didn’t see me fall. Nice kid.

While I excused my behavior with laughter, I realized that my laughter had put another individual in a rather awkward position. Humor is different for all individuals, especially regarding certain situations. Humor cannot be forced, and laughter might not always be reciprocated. One thing I know for sure, I will definitely take my time on the stairs at 9:59, chemistry can wait, at least I still have my laughter.

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