Seriously, are you having any fun?
No matter how passionate you are about your career/cause/job, or how important/critical/time sensitive it is, I don’t think you’re doing it right if you aren’t laughing. Not like a hyena, not like the Joker from the 1980s DC comics, not like an Elmo doll. More like the Dalai Lama, or Lily Tomlin, or Missy Eliot. You know those people are conscious, and working hard, and finding the humor and joy in their world. You can too.
Let’s talk about some ways to bring healthy laughter to your workplace or class or project.
Telling a story on yourself
Sometimes if we’re a manager or a teacher or in some other position of power we don’t want to show any vulnerability. If we could all just tell meaningful, funny stories about times that we learned something the hard way or the dumb way, we’d model growth, learning, and demonstrate trust in our colleagues. I promise you, the times that I’ve shared moments of young dumbness, my students, have gasped, laughed, and trusted my authenticity.
One of the moments from my last job that I treasure is the time that my boss imitated the Prancercise lady to put me into a better mood. One of the lessons learned was that prancercise IS a good work out. But I also took note that my boss and I bonded over foolishness. Whatever tiring task I was working on, was made easier by our brief break. Sometimes it can feel like to be “productive” you have to be task-driven, but that 5 minutes looking at a lady with a prominent camel toe can give you the drive to get back to work.
Hyperbole and Wordplay
For me and my nerd friends, playing with the words we use– the sound, the spelling, the semantics– becomes a way to enliven our discussions. With my students, I consciously and unconsciously pepper my speech with regional idioms and colloquialisms. Sure, if I was designing classes for international classes, I’d use standard business English, but I’m not. My students live in Central Virginia. When I use some silly expression, it becomes a teachable moment, but with humor. They ask me what on earth I said, shake their head at Americans, and then usually ask me for clarification that’s been puzzling them from a previous conversation.
Unacceptable Forms of Laughter
There is absolutely no place for laughter that comes from a place of derision, humiliation, racism, sexism, or othering of any sort. Yes, laughter can be a way to bond, and form community. It can also be used to humiliate and cheapen people in power differentials. Stop asking, “Do you mind if I tell a racist joke?” The answer is yes. Yes, yes I do mind if you tell the racist joke. Besides the fact that as a white person I don’t find it funny, I also see that the black server who doesn’t have the power to tell you to shut the hell up, feels ostracized. I see that if your Hispanic dishwasher is laughing along, it’s not in good humor, it’s going along to get along. I see that the laughter that your “joke” caused is malicious and hateful. I see that your “joke” continues racist norms, even if you proclaim that you aren’t a racist. As always, be aware of power differentials, and be kind.