Humor is a most effective ,yet frequently neglected,means of handling the difficult situations in our lives.
Next time you find yourself in an ethnically awkward situation, take a lesson from the diplomatic delegates to Europe’s Common Market. In the course of history nearly every member nation has been invaded or betrayed by at least one of the others, and the Market’s harmony must be constantly buttressed. One method is the laugh based on national caricatures. Recently, a new arrival at Market headquarters in Brussels introduced himself as a Minister for the Swiss Navy. Everybody laughed. The Swiss delegate retorted, “Well, why not? Italy has a Minister of Finance.”
Of course,humor is often more than a laughing matter.In its more potent guises, it has a Trojan-horse nature:no one goes on guard against a gag;we let it in because it looks like a little wooden toy.Once inside, however,it can turn a city to reform,to rebellion,to resistance.Some believe that next to the heroic British RAF, British humor did the most to fend off a German takeover in World War Two. One sample will suffice: that famous story of the woman who was finally extracted from the rubble of her house during the London blitz. Asked, “ Where is your husband?” she brushed brick dust off her head and arms and answered, “Fighting in Libya, the bloody coward!”
Similarly, whenever we Americans start taking ourselves a bit too seriously, a grassroots humor seems to rise and strew banana peels in our path. The movement is usually led by professionals: Mark Twain penlancing the boils of pomposity (Man was made at the end of week’s work, when God was tired.”); Will Rogers deflating our law-makers”(The oldest boy became a Congressman, and the second son turned out no good, too.”); Bill Mauldin needling fatuous officers (One 2nd lieutenant to another, on observing a beautiful sunset: “Is there one for enlisted men, too?”) Such masters of comic deflation restore the balance. They bring us back to ourselves.
When life has us in a tight corner, one of the first questions we might ask is,"Can I solve this with a laugh?"Men with giant responsibilities have frequently used this approach to giant problems-often with sweeping effect.As Gen. George C. Marshall, U.S. Army Chief Staff, labored to prepare this then-unready nation to enter World War Two, he met stiff opposition from his Commander-in-Chief regarding the elements that called for the most bolstering. Marshall felt that what we needed most were highly developed ground forces. President Roosevelt was a navy man who believed that our principal need was for a powerful navy, plus a large air force. In increasing tense debates with the President, Marshall pushed his argument so hard that he began to foster ever stronger resistance. Finally, during a particularly hot session, the usually stonefaced Marshall forced a grin. “At least, Mr. Presisent,” he said, “You might stop referring to the Navy as ‘us’ and the Army as ‘them’.”
Roosevelt studied Marshall over his glassed, then unlipped a great show of teeth and laughter. Shortly thereafter, he made a more objective study of Marshall’s recommendations and eventually bought the ground-force concept.
If humor can be used successfully against such odds,what can’t you and I do with it in daily life?
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