What’s So Funny ’bout Pain and Degradation?

Tree in fallElvis Costello sang, “What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love and understanding?” To which I think we parents can say, “Not much.”  However, if we ask, “What’s so funny about Pain and Degradation?” we must admit that, painful as it is, that is exactly where we find the heart of humor.  We get hit by a two-by-four, that is tragedy; someone else gets hit by a two-by-four—voila, comedy.  We generally laugh when either we see a character in a situation that we are glad not to be in (Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock-tower) or when we see pretentious characters get their comeuppance.

Comedy is anxiety—all dressed up in a clown suit, the jester daring to speak the truth to our intellects, our neurotic, emperor-without-clothes would-be leaders.  But the heart is our true king, and folks like Thich Nhat Hahn and the Dali Lama are always chuckling.  They have achieved “child mind,” they see with great compassion and love—and they see the humor in our human suffering.  They laugh with us, but trust me on this, they see our pain. 

Humor is a very high-level defense (better by far than denial, acting out, or fragmenting into insanity because we can’t handle our world or our situation).  And while neurochemistry causes most psychotic disorders, under the wrong conditions we can all lose it.  Gallows humor is a great way to enjoy one’s last moments, and it’s also a good plan if it happens to turn out that the executioner was only kidding… at least for today.

Parenting, and life, could be approached, time-to-time at least, like improvisational comedy (which is partly funny because we are so glad not to have to be up on front of a room full of people, on the spot, trying to be funny while all wait to see if we will fail).  With “improv” (which I admire, but dare not try), the main rule is to go with the scene.  If one of the players tries to change what the first one has set up, it’s simply not funny.  But if they go with it, no matter how absurd, it is often both funny and delightful.  This is known as the ground-rule of “Yes and” as opposed to “Yes, but… let me make it this way.”

If we are able to “go with” our kids’ wants and desires, not necessarily giving in, yet acknowledging their position, things will often go a little better.  The child who tantrums in the store that they want candy, generally tantrums because the parent is saying, “Yes you want that, but you can’t have it.”  Just to amuse ourselves, we might try an alternative:  “Yes, you want that candy, and I want all the ice-cream in the store.”  Now the kid is not sure where this is going.  Perhaps they get playful with us, “And I want all the toys,” and we say, “And I want the person in line behind us to buy it all for us.”

I had a pro-bono client who had very little money, but he would take his daughter to the store and they would go “pretend shopping,” piling everything they wanted into the cart, and then, eventually, leaving without buying anything at all.  I’m not sure about his shopping cart karma, but it was a fun way of indulging wants without really buying a bunch of useless stuff that, even if he could have afforded it, wouldn’t have enriched he or his daughter.

So let’s dedicate today to laughter, to “Yes, and.”  Let’s strive to laugh at ourselves, and be able to laugh with our children—perhaps imagining the laughter of children (who maybe prove me wrong altogether, laughing for pure  joy and not at others’ pain), ringing all around our too often laugh-starved planet.

Namaste, Bruce


4 Responses to “What’s So Funny ’bout Pain and Degradation?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Ah the mighty mighty improv! Once again, thanks DB Stephanie

  2. Art Kinsey Says:

    Last night, feeling quite tired, I pulled the old “because I said so.”. as we all know, this one never works, next time I’m going with comedy!

  3. Lurc Says:

    Good job. I read and could not be torn away.

  4. Beth Kirk Says:

    Since reading this, I’ve used the “yes, and” technique a couple of times. It changed the dynamic of my interaction with Jeremy for the better.

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