The perspective of humor
by Allen Klein
In the humor programs I present nationwide, I frequently share a letter I once saw in the newspaper. It went something like this:
Dear Mom and Dad,
I am sorry that I have not written, but all my stationery was destroyed when the dorm burned down. I am now out of the hospital and the doctor said that I will recover soon. I have also moved in with the boy who rescued me, since most of my things were destroyed in the fire.
Oh yes, I know that you have always wanted a grandchild, so you will be pleased to know that I am pregnant and you will have one soon.
Then there was a postscript:
P.S. There was no fire, my health is perfectly fine and I am not pregnant. In fact, I don’t even have a boyfriend. But I did get a D in French and a C in math and chemistry, and I just wanted to make sure that you keep it all in perspective.
That is what humor is all about. It’s not telling a joke. It’s not laughing at a joke. It is taking your God-given sense of humor and using it to see your difficulties in a new way.
Humor lends a fresh eye. It is like one of those old-fashioned topsy-turvy drawings. You hold it one way and you see a picture of a man who is sad. You turn it around, and the man’s beard becomes his hair, his mustache becomes his eyebrows, and suddenly the man is smiling — the same picture, but when seen from another angle it looks entirely different.
Expanding Our Point of View
When we can find some humor in our upsets, they no longer seem as large or as important as they once did. Humor expands our limited picture frame and gets us to see more than just our problem. A sense of humor provides a new perspective on our situation.
Charlie Chaplin once said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up but a comedy in long shot.” Mirth myopia is perhaps today’s greatest disease. We get so caught up in our everyday struggles that we forget to step back and see the comic absurdity of some of our actions.
“When my father missed a plane,” notes Cavett Robert, the founder of the National Speakers Association to which I belong, “he caught another one. When my grandfather missed a train, he caught one the next day. Their world did not come to an end. There were other trains and other planes. Today, we miss one section of a revolving door and our entire day is shot.”
Like sheep that get lost nibbling away at the grass because they never look up, we often focus so much on ourselves and our problems that we get lost. We forget to step back and see the larger picture. It is our sense of humor, as one writer put it, that provides “a God’s-eye view” of our situation.
When the naturalist William Beebe used to visit President Theodore Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill, both would take an evening stroll after dinner. Then one or the other would go through a customary ritual. He would look up at the stars saying, “That is the Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It is 750,000 light-years away. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.” Then silence followed. Finally, one of them would say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”
A little perspective, like a little humor, goes a long way.
©1996 Allen Klein. All Rights Reserved.