It is not always easy to crack a joke or laugh at one, especially when it pertains to sensitive topics. After all, saying something funny and making fun of someone is a very fine line.
Even people with the best intentions can have a difficult time distinguishing between the two.
Is it worth risking offense just to crack a joke?
Perhaps surprisingly, yes. No one should underestimate the power of humor.
Is Humor Truly Necessary?
Laughing at yourself is not the same as devaluing yourself.
On the contrary, laughing at yourself can often be mentally and socially uplifting when done right.
This applies to everyone, whether they are PWDs or anyone else.
Here’s why humor is needed:
Humor is essential to normalization
Jokes help people of different backgrounds get comfortable with one another. Being hypersensitive toward humor only creates an emotional and social gap. The last thing you should want is for others to walk on eggshells around you.
Humor is by itself a reminder not to always take life too seriously.
The essence of humor – good humor, at least – is NOT about making light of a situation.
It’s about finding the silver linings between difficult situations. It’s about smiling and laughing more by taking a more positive perspective.
Humor is a powerful educator.
Comedians have a knack of using humor to not only create laughs, but also to create awareness of any and all issues imaginable.
You could do the same, even if you’re no comedian.
When done well, humor creates a more relaxed, peaceable environment in which such issues can be brought to light.
Humor fosters understanding and strengthens emotional bonds.
There is a reason why funny people are considered ideal social integrators – they tend to have superior emotional intelligence (EQ). You can never have too much EQ.
Even if you’re not one to make jokes, having a sense of humor will go a long way toward making others more understanding and respectful of your circumstances.
How to harness humor without causing unintentional harm
Speaking of EQ, one must never forget emotional maturity and common sense when attempting humor.
> Respect context. Common sense dictates there is a time and place for everything. Humor is no exception.
> See if you need to assure your conversational partners that your attempts at humor are merely made for laughs, not malice. Jokes can and will get lost in translation occasionally. Be as lighthearted as the jokes you make when clarifying or apologizing if the need arises.
> Play it smart and safe by ramping up the humor only as your understanding and closeness toward someone increases. The more you understand someone, the easier it will be to discern what comedic lines can and cannot be crossed.
> Remember to be generally polite and peaceable outside comedic moments. This is crucial. If someone who tends to be socially insufferable suddenly makes an attempt at humor, the joke is most likely to be perceived negatively.
In short, be nice. It’s easier to laugh with someone nice.
Anyone might be tempted to avoid joking about sensitive topics, such as disabilities. Some might even argue it is taboo to be humorous about something we cannot control.
Assuming that’s true, there would be awful little to laugh about. Life’s a crazy comedy, full of absurdities. It’s the one common ground everyone shares, regardless of circumstance.
Don’t deny yourself that common ground by refusing to laugh. So make humor your best friend. You’ll find yourself smiling more and find others smiling with you.
HelpGuide.org (2021) Laughter Is The Best Medicine [Accessed 28 July 2022] Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm#:~:text=Laughter%20decreases%20stress%20hormones%20and,can%20even%20temporarily%20relieve%20pain
DD Chadwick (2018) Investigating Humor in Social Interaction in People With Intellectual Disabilities [Accessed 28 July 2022] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6160904/
Alistair Gardiner (2021) Research explains how laughter is the best medicine [Accessed 28 July 2022] Available at: https://www.mdlinx.com/article/research-explains-how-laughter-is-the-best-medicine/oX3vKVoxcoglWsKnDx0hQ
Barbara Field (2021) The Health Benefits of Humor and Laughter [Accessed 28 July 2022] Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/health-benefits-of-humor-and-laughter-5101137
Matt Davis (2019) Why a sense of humor is an essential life skill [Accessed 28 July 2022] Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/why-humor-is-an-essential-life-skill/