Everyone wants to be funny. From the class clown in the second grade to the head brain surgery in a major hospital. Jokes are part of who we are. When others laugh at our jokes, we feel accomplished, empowered, and honored. It gives us a sense that we are worth something. The smiles of others satisfies our inward need to be appreciated. Yet, so often these jokes come at the expense of someone else’s pride, and it doesn’t have to be that way at all! I’m no expert on human interaction, but I have noticed that there are two very prevailing methods of humor. Both of which carry the same comical power, but only one of which that truly cares for the joy of others. I will talk about each below and then give some real practical examples of how I have seen this in my own life.
A senior in high school walks out of Geometry having just failed a test. Ashamed at his lack of preparation… he slowly sulks towards his locker. His mom’s going to be so mad… knowing full well that he had TOLD her that he’d studied. His buddy Jake walks over. Having just aced the same test, Jake is feeling pretty good about himself. And what better way to make himself feel even better than to remind his downtrodden friend? “Hey Jim!” he proclaims in a jubilant manner, “How’d you do on that test?” “I don’t really want to talk about it.” Knowing perfectly well that Jim failed, Jake prods further, gaining a few chuckles from the rest of their buddies nearby. “It’s okay man. I’m just a genius. If you manage to pass this class maybe you’ll do better in Algebra.” Choosing these words carefully, Jake has one goal in mind: boost his own status through the embarrassment of his friend. These are what I call “killers.” We’ve all seen it! Those jokes that really don’t do anything except tear the other person down. It may even be funny to the person being made fun of at times. Even still, the jokes primary purpose is always to make the joke teller feel better about themselves.
However, there is another kind of joke which in my opinion is EQUALLY as funny, yet rarely used. I call these jokes “builders.” Imagine the same situation. Jim walks out of class defeated, Jake close behind… but something is different in Jake. Completely opposite the previous example, Jake looks on Jim with compassion, not seeing the target of a well placed joke. Instead, in the hopes of raising Jim’s mood, Jake works to make JIM laugh. So, instead of announcing Jim’s shame to everyone, Jake, in a playfully quiet tone says, “Hey man! That test was brutal! I think there’s a conspiracy going on to make sure you don’t become an astronaut. Too bad you’re a genius! Anything I can do to help?” BOOM!!! If I were Jim, I know I would smile at that one! And it was such a simple change.
With killers, the goal is to use others to make yourself feel better. The goal: the JOKE-TELLER wins. With builders however, the goal is that EVERYONE wins. If a joke is going to offend someone, no joke will be told. As simple as that. If something is going to hurt someone, then it’s not a joke, it’s just mean. And ironically, builders are often just as funny as their killer counterpart in just about every situation. Here are some examples:
Killer: “Wow. You lifting a whole 50 pounds… First day in the gym, huh?”
Builder: “Dude! How do you do it! Listen up people! This guys on his way to being the world’s fittest fella!”
Killer: “Don’t worry about it. Not everyone was made to be a dancer.”
Builder: “Oh you’re really not that bad at all! The first time I went dancing I dropped a girl from like three feet up. You’re definitely better than that.”
Killer: “Oh… You’re reading Twilight? I remember when I used to think that book was good in like the fifth grade.”
Builder: “I used to love that book! Not going to spoiler anything but is Edward a vampire yet.”
With every joke, it can be tweaked towards love. The question really comes down to who YOU want to be? I have friends who it seems LIVE to tell jokes that tear people down… and sometimes I just want to cut them out of my life completely. After all, if I am not becoming a better person from being around them, then what’s the point? And on the flip side, I know people who are so encouraging that I have a NEED to hang with them more. I leave their presence built up and ready to take on the world!
So, who do you want to be? Each and every one of us has the power to spread love that builds others up. But we have to choose it! It’s a moment by moment THINKING about what we’re saying. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” [Ephesians 4:29 ESV]. Don’t you want to give grace to those you talk to? Think on it.
Last, if this is something you can see yourself needing to work on, but you really can’t figure out how, I’d love to talk with you about it. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can chat. =D Have a blessed Christmas week everyone!