The virtue of Transcendence


“This isn’t life in the fast lane, it’s life in the oncoming traffic”.

Terry Pratchett

Humour is hard to explain

Of all the existential strengths that form part of the virtue of transcendence, humour is the most complicated to explain. This is because what people find funny is so subjective. What I find funny might not be funny to you, then again, I have a warped sense of humour so that is not a great example. So, where do you and I go from here? Do we share some jokes and see where that leads us?

I must say, I am super game for that because it sounds enormously fun. However, the killjoy part of me knows that we could use our time better. Every party has a pooper, right? Anyway, I do hope you will share some of your favourite jokes in the comment section.

laughing is good for you

Jokes or rather comedy, in general, is a matter of personal taste, but its effect is not. The cliché laughter is the best medicine is exactly why humour is a strength.

As research explains, humour is the ability to make people smile, or see the upside of an unfortunate situation, but that is not what makes it a strength. The act of laughing has several physical beneficial consequences on the body and the brain such as boosting our immunity and increasing blood flow. That is the biology behind it, but it also causes relaxation by releasing muscle tension. The psychological effect is far more interesting.

Humour is a coping strength

Being able to see the light side of a difficult situation makes the ordeal seem more manageable. Similarly, people with the ability to make people laugh are generally considered more likeable and trustworthy especially if they are prone to making jokes about themselves. This propensity to show vulnerability whilst causing people to laugh and relax is the most influential strength. At that moment when we laugh or we make people laugh, we take a temporary break from our anxiety and strain. Humour is one of the healthiest ways of escaping a situation when physical escape is impossible.

why Pooh is funny

This is what Milne did very successfully with Winnie the Pooh. It is so successful that nearly a century since its first publication these stories are still being read around the world.

In this instance it is not simply the mere act of reading these humorous little stories that provide a distraction to the reader, the characters themselves illustrate how humour can alleviate tense situations. They serve as examples of the strength of humour. Allow me to elaborate.

Kanga Queen of comedy

When Kanga and Roo first move into the forest, Rabbit has one of those, “there goes the neighbourhood” problems, and thus tries to get rid of them. Please, do not judge Rabbit too harshly. Anyone who has ever sat near the play area of a restaurant will tell you that small children do not make for peace and tranquillity. Rabbit plans to prank Kanga by replacing Roo with Piglet for a short while and thus convince Kanga to move. I realise this sounds uncomfortably a lot like kidnapping, but that is because I am explaining it out of context. It is meant to be a prank.

Still, I will admit Rabbit is exceptionally lucky that Kanga is not me because I would probably have slaughtered him and put him in paella. Kanga, on the other hand, practises the strength of humour and by teasing Piglet unravels the entire plot. Roo, for his part, with his playfulness, delights and entertains Rabbit and the two become best friends.

defuse the situation with humour

When the world was still wrapping its head around the coronavirus, many jokes were being circulated about the virus. It was humanities way of turning their fear into a manageable emotion.   When the news about the virus starting becoming so sad that jokes about it became super inappropriate, people started to disseminate jokes about social isolation and quarantine. This is not because people find it a laughing matter, but rather because by humorously sharing their woes they feel less alone and the situation becomes more manageable again. For that split second, we have a break from the difficulties we are facing together.

what are you laughing at?

Have you noticed how contagious humour is? Look at your phone for a bit. Check to see how many humorous COVID19 and isolation related memes, gifs, and clips have you received or forwarded since the first case of the virus hit our borders? Compare it to a few months ago? Have you noticed how the topic gradually changed from the disease to the matter of quarantine? To those parents out there, how many of you have been receiving and forwarding homeschooling jokes? Would you have laughed at homeschooling jokes the same way a few months ago?

universally funny

That is something to be proudly South African about, we are very good and pulling together during a crisis and using humour to keep one another strong. However, humour is universal and it is a coping mechanism that is being used around the world. Their content might just differ slightly from yours. That is what makes humour is a strength. So keep it up. Use it. Practice it. Moreover, if all else fails, remember this…

Sharks swim in saltwater because pepper water would make them sneeze.”


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