In “Fear v. Consensus,” I wrote about how fear defeats our best efforts to build consensus, and about one antidote to fear—extending a little love to someone in some way.
Humor is also good medicine in many ways. It can dispel the fear that, as Yoda said, leads to anger, hate and suffering. It can boost our confidence as we prepare for a consensus-seeking conversation. Studies have even shown that people who spend some time laughing every day enjoy better health, and this holds true even if the laugh is forced. I like to watch old sitcom reruns and make a point of laughing out loud.
Humor can also break the ice and build rapport during a consensus-seeking conversation, provided that we choose the humor well. The best type of humor for such purposes is not mean-spirited, but rather good-natured. If Lavender seeks consensus with Ron, she might feel tempted to take a “humorous” verbal jab at Hermione, whom she thinks she and Ron both dislike.
But, while sharing a laugh at Hermione’s expense can form a bond of sorts, it is not the best kind of bond for building consensus with Ron. This kind of humor reinforces Lavender’s fear and plants a seed of mean-spiritedness that can color not only her conversation with Ron but also her general mood and health. It also plants that seed of mean-spiritedness in Ron, and his mean turn of mind might come back to haunt Lavender.
Another danger in trying to bond by poking fun at Hermione is that it can backfire if Ron secretly loves her and lashes out at Lavender, rather than jumping on her bandwagon. We don’t always know our companion’s likes and dislikes.
Moreover, if Lavender’s dislike was spawned by fear of brainiac Hermione showing her up, ragging on Hermione keeps Lavender focused on the person she fears—Hermione. This focus may fly below the radar screen of Lavender’s conscious mind, increasing its insidious power to influence her outlook without her realizing it.
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne suggests that we attract what we focus on. Look at it this way: if Byrne is correct, you certainly don’t want to focus on what you fear, for you will only attract more of it; and if Byrne is incorrect, you have nothing to lose by focusing on good-natured humor; in fact you have a lot to gain, for all of the other reasons I’ve mentioned above.
Good-natured humor doesn’t have a butt or victim. Many puns and riddles fall into the category of good-natured or victimless humor. They may not elicit the biggest laughs. They may elicit a fake groan. But that’s OK. You aren’t auditioning for a stand-up gig at a comedy club. Your interest in introducing humor to a conversation is to break ice, build rapport, and dispel any fear or anxiety on either side of the fence.
Humor at the expense of a fictional character can work, e.g. relating a funny incident from a TV show, provided the character is not a caricature of a demographic you and/or the other person fear. Lavender should avoid repeating incidents about the nerdy brainiacs in The Big Bang Theory. Self-deprecating humor can work, too, provided you are secure enough not to secretly believe your own tongue-in-cheek comment about yourself.
But if you can’t come up with butt-less jokes, that’s OK. There are many other ways to bond and dispel fear during a conversation. Just practice laughing and enjoying good-natured humor whenever you can, even if only watching reruns of Frasier, and the healthy confidence you build up will shine through in future conversations.
And for more ways to build rapport, check out Bridges to Consensus, Chapter 11 “Magic Mirrors.”