Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Role of Humor in Soul-making

Humor always pokes fun at that which is elevated or that which is forbidden--attacking opposite ends of the acceptability poles. Either pompous or important people or ideas are mocked, or base and forbidden people and ideas are mocked. All humor is aimed at what is elevated, or what is vulgar. Why has this always been, and why do we laugh when the mighty are lampooned, or the vulgar exposed?

As with all emotions and psychological phenomena, there are good reasons for their existence. Just as in the physical world, a sneeze expels some irritant in the nasal passage, or a cough removes a foreign object from the throat, so too laughing serves a great function. What is it?

Humor is a universal psychological device that rearranges the soul's boundaries and dynamic makeup. It is significant that we speak of "poking fun," or "sticking it to him." This imagery suggests that some sort of membrane or boundary is assailed. Let's imagine the personality or individual self as something like a bubble. Each of us is a bubble filled with conscious contents, including a name, education, experiences, identity, etc. We sometimes call this self an ego which really just means "I". One school of thought suggests that the ego or self is always in need of deflation or inflation, in need of being burst asunder, of being pushed ever outward. That is how humor works.

Humor either pushes the tiny self outward, beyond it's comfortable boundaries, or alternately, humor bursts the rind of the inflated, pompous ego that it might deflate in order to re-inflate. Both experiences allow for the infinite contents of the Unconscious to flow in and transmute the self into an increasingly different and enlarged soul.


Imagine two fellows: each has a serious attachment to his particular political point of view; one is a republican and the other is a democrat. Each is quite serious and always ready to fight for his party, despising those who disagree. This is actually all too common. It could also be differing religious points of view, including a somber theist and zealous atheist. Now imagine someone telling a joke that mocks the republican's ideological identity. People all around begin to laugh as he fumes quietly or out loud. Or imagine the joke is told against the serious democrat's positions or candidates, and he too feels very upset and angry that his cosmological security has been "poked". The result is deflation of the ego, sometimes called humiliation.


Imagine another scenario--a nun in a convent. She took vows of chastity at the age of eighteen and is now twenty-five. She has lived each day a virginal bride of Christ. This is her eternal, frozen identity. One night, after her prayers, she turns on her little radio and finds a station playing some of Eddie Murphy's old vulgar stand-up comedy acts from the 1980s. She is appalled and switches stations, but guiltily keeps coming back to the vulgar jokes. She finds herself giggling. She listens a little longer, and is simultaneously disgusted and amused. Her old identity bubble is being poked, being "poked fun at," and as it erodes, psychic rearrangement is taking place. She may remain in the monastery in a life of celibacy, but her psyche will either become more understanding or rigid.


In each scenario, humor as deflation and humor as inflation, the old selves are being assailed. The internal anger or glee, as well as the external anger or laughter, are eroding the old self. It is not obvious, after all, it is "just" entertainment. I once heard a public speaker say, "I love to tell funny stories, because when the audience has their mouths wide open in laughter, I shove my point down their throats!" Humor breaks the psyche wide open. Our reactions to humor, as to all emotion, releases the dynamic psychic energy that rearranges the personality. Humor, or Trickster in many mythologies, is the conduit between the conscious self and the Unconscious Source of Soul.

Next time fun is poked at your exalted ideas, or some joke exposes something you consider forbidden and/or socially unacceptable, pay attention to your response. Like it or not, Psyche is rearranging your soul, either deflating your pompously inflated ego, or pushing the boundaries of your puny limited self beyond the correct strictures. The Soul cares little about politics, religions, social conventions or any of those things we make ultimate. Soul uses all of life to keep the dynamic of soul moving. Soul wastes nothing--it recycles everything for its purposes.

Lighten up.

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