"Laughter is an expression of our essential humanity," said Al Gini, professor of business ethics. "It is both a sword and a shield to defend ourselves against life."
Gini shared his thoughts on humor at the inaugural Q Talks: Live! event, which is part of the Dean’s Alumni Series. The event also featured Professor Tim Classen unpacking the opioid crisis and Professor Jenna Drenten on how visual social media is changing communication.
During his presentation, Gini offered three main takeaways:
Gini cited theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “Meeting the disappointments, irrationalities, frustrations, and contingencies of life with laughter may in fact be a higher form of wisdom than we ever thought.”
Gini added that both seriousness and silliness are critical parts of a meaningful life.
Humor helps people cope with life, said Gini. "When we laugh at one of life’s mysteries, cruelties, or horrors, we diminish, if only temporarily, its terror in our imagination.”
Gini added that "joke telling is an attempt to keep at a distance our fear of the unknown, the unanswerable, and the unacceptable." He later says that humor is not a cure for life, but it can be a helpful anesthesia.
Jokes about marriage, money, death, religion, and other weighty topics may not provide definitive answers, but they can “just perhaps offer some perspective, some illumination in regard to these fundamentally insolvable problems we face every day.”
As an example, Gini read a letter from a student to her parents detailing injuries, an engagement to a convict in need of teeth, and pregnancy. In the letter’s postscript, the student admits that she fabricated the entire story. In reality, she is failing one of her courses, and wanted her parents to put this shortcoming into “proper perspective."
Gini finished his presentation by offering three pieces of advice:
For more on humor, Gini recommends these books:
View Q Talks photos in the gallery below or on Quinlan’s Flickr page.