Humor and the Absent

March 19, 2014

“Don’t be a jerk,” James Martin suggested as he explained how we could “Be kind” during Lent. He added “Always give people the benefit of the doubt” and “Honor the absent,” that is, stop talking (and joking) about people behind their backs.

I think I could be kind, mostly, for forty days. But what if it became a habit? Would I like it? Would I be boring? Would you like it? It’s worth taking a chance. Actually, I’m convinced that, not counting lousy jokes, we can habitually be both funny and kind and that it won’t bore people.

Martin’s “honor the absent” reminds me of one important way to be funny and kind: know your audience. Your audience, any time you speak or chat or joke, is bigger than you think. You have the audience you can see, whether an individual or a crowd. (You can actually see how big they are, but there’s a lot about them you still don’t know.) Then you have the audience you can’t see, the one at the next table or cubicle, or down the hall, or the one to whom you get quoted, live or on Twitter and Facebook. Whatever their size, it’s big.

We can’t choose “the absent,” the unseen audience. So to avoid being a jerk, the kindness habit makes sense. I suspect that some behind-the-back talk can be kind. You could brag on or say nice things about someone. You might even tell a funny story that the “absent” person would laugh along with, that would not feel like an attack or like being laughed at. These are brags and tales you could tell gladly and kindly with the missing person standing right beside you.

But more often, I’d guess, people say demeaning, even false things and laugh at the absent person’s expense. Attacks like that hurt both the target and those who talk and laugh. It sullies everyone who shares in the meanness. And it raises questions about the speaker. Even when they laugh, listeners must rightly think, “What will he say about me when I’m not around? Mental note: do not trust this person.”

Both our integrity and our unseen audience deserve the best we can give. The habit of kindness gives us a good start. You might try it for Lent.


Living in Fun

"Walking Cheerfully" is place to think out loud about how to use and enjoy humor in positive, life-giving ways. We’ll explore how following Christ in all of life can shape, not scuttle, laughter and creative play. What might it mean to laugh with others as you would have them laugh with you?

Probably the other most common posts will be "Finds in Fun." I first learned the phrase “being in fun” from Tom Mullen’s Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences. He points to the playfulness of children, who are readier to laugh and to see the silly than most adults. Living each day “in fun” often makes us laugh as we slog through a nearly endless supply of things odd, silly, klutzy, and preposterous. The stories here are mostly from my own ordinary, “in fun” days.

Fun Nooks and Crannies

There’s “Humor in the Bible,” and these posts explore where it is, how to find it, and what to do with it. It’s one way of thinking about how to read the Bible well.

Since a lot of us spend big chunks of time at work, the “Humor at Work” posts will suggest ways to stay sane and happy, to get along with cow-orkers, and to use humor to do good work.

I’m a book-pusher at heart, and some of my best friends push books, too. I even know some folks who read. So “Fun Books” posts will tell about books that are funny and help us think about humor.

Sometimes I’ll brag on some of the friends I’ve been given or share some photos I’ve enjoyed taking. Maybe you’ll laugh, maybe not, but they’ve brought joy in my journey.

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