When you are president of an organization, you are required to resolve conflict daily. Over forty people, all in one organization, and all with different visions make for a contentious concoction. Tensions rise, faces redden, voices raise… then, you have a yelling match spiraling out of control.
I chime in with a light-hearted comment. Not particularly funny, but enough for an array of smiles and a couple of chuckles. The yelling ceases and the mood shifts away from staunch argument to a humorous distraction. The comment, as short and sweet as it is, refocuses the minds of the arguers by taking them out of their positions for a brief moment. After this moment, the original arguers changed their approach and began to express their views calmly and with their inside voices. Then, this organization was more able to reach a satisfactory compromise on what was being discussed.
All of this goes to say that there are many tools used to understand and resolve conflicts, yet one remains commonly overlooked: humor. Dr. Weems, author of the book “Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why,” states that “interpreting our world is a creative event,” and jokes are usually based on conflict. Making fun of these errors we see in the conflict is how “our brains turn conflict to reward,” making the world a little more light-hearted and fun (Williams 2014). It is almost like a coping mechanism, something that turns a stressful situation into an enjoyable one. Williams also states “studies show that humor improves our health, helps us get along better with others and even makes us smarter,” (Williams 2014).
One could say common sense dictates that humor is a key ingredient in great relationships. Oftentimes, a good sense of humor is a trait we look for in partners. We may be attracted to humorous people because we ourselves, at least subconsciously, are aware of life’s adversities and would like a partner that can help us make them more bearable. Mahatma Gandhi was very well known for his sense of humor and once said “that if it had not been for his sense of humor, he would have gone mad long ago in the face of such disharmony and hatred,” (Nagler & Ridd 2014). In many ways, such and attitude is what led to his longevity and popularity in the Indian independence movement. Personally, I know if I do not try to use humor for everyday situations, the sadness and stress of daily life may have led to an early demise, as it has for so many others. Thus, humor is, at its heart, a re-framing tactic, one that aims to focus on the laughable nature of a dire situation instead of its controversy.
Yet, it is important to realize that humor is not a cure-all. Ridiculing somebody or ribbing at their insecurities is not an effective way to use humor. In fact, it is a sure-fire way to escalate the conflict further, your comment resulting in more anger and embarrassment (Nagler & Ridd 2014). So, it is important to remember that it is safer to poke fun at the current scenario, not to poke fun at their sensitive quirks. Abraham Lincoln once said “the best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend,” and this can best be done through this well-placed humor (Nagler & Ridd 2014). When you make a person laugh (or even just smile), they begin to like you a little more. A connection forms between you in that moment. Whatever the joke was about, you both agreed it was bizarre and worth being pointed out for its absurdity.
Humor has been used this way since the times of early civilization. Talented jesters of Ancient Chinese courts would use their humor to remonstrate the emperor. The funny ones were able to entertain the king as well as get him to reconsider some policies. This is done today in the form of shows like “Saturday Night Live,” “The Daily Show,” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” Such shows take what is currently happening in the world and make fun of it. In doing this, serious topics are boiled down to a funny bit that emphasizes on what his hysterical about it. From here, the tone of the topic has changed and it becomes easier to discuss without conflict.
Every day, there is a potential for conflict. From your family squabbles to the apathetic barista that forgot your coffee order, every moment can be a flash moment with somebody. But, having a humorous heart can keep you from losing your cool and make a flash point a laughing point.
Nagler, Michael, and Karen Ridd. “Humor but Not Humiliation: Finding the Sweet Spot in Nonviolent Conflict Resolution.” OpenDemocracy. OpenDemocracy, 7 May 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.
Williams, Florence. “”Ha!” Takes a Serious Look at Humor.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 Mar. 2014. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.