Monday, April 21, 2014

The Perils of Wit



Laughter is wonderful, and the art of making others laugh is a highly-prized skill. There are, however, some distinct downsides to attempting humor. This is a list I can recount with a fair amount of confidence because I am guilty of them all.

All who consider yourselves wits, read and take note. 

The Perils of Wit:

Danger 1: Making jokes that nobody understands. Oh, the shame of dropping a particularly delicious witticism only to have your sally greeted by the blank stares of your companions and the chirping of crickets. This is a distinct downside not only because of the disappointment you feel over the wasted wit but also because all it takes are a few misguided Robespierre jokes for everyone in your life to suspect that you've gone insane. When you ignore this warning (meaning that you allow your need to express a well-timed quip to override your better judgement and you drop a Soylent Green joke despite the questionable demographics of your audience) you'll have no one to thank but yourself.

Danger 2: Feeling that you must rise to meet expectations. Have you ever caught people pausing in conversation to stare at you as if waiting for droll comments to drip freely from your lips? Once you suspect that people think you're witty, you may fear that they will become disappointed if you don't rise to the occasion by constantly entertaining them with a stream of lively banter. The danger here is that in attempting to be "on" all the time despite occasional dips in mood, intermittent personal struggles, or a temporarily sluggish mental state, you may wind up displaying a grotesque parody of humor that delights no one. Better by far to keep your mouth shut and let the moment pass you by.

Danger 3: Confronting the assumption that you don't think too deeply. For some reason, people tend to equate seriousness with depth and laughter with shallow flippancy. Although there's some truth at the core of the assumption, it's still a dangerous over-generalization. Yes, it doesn't cost much to be flippant, but not all humor is flippancy and not all earnestness is solemn. C.S. Lewis acknowledges joy as the "serious business of heaven," and perhaps it's time for more people to apply this concept to their earthly lives. There is a type of joy that is serious just as there is a type of humor that is actually very sad.  The point is that if we assume that those with light hearts only skim the surface of life, we must think again. It often costs a great deal to learn to respond to the serious business of life with quips and laughter. 

Danger 4: Allowing wit to trump all other considerations. One of the worst perils of wit is the constant danger of letting the words fly without first considering the requirements we should place upon all communication. Unfortunately, individuals blessed with quick, sharp minds will often allow their tongues to run on ahead, speaking first and considering the ramifications later. This is perhaps the greatest peril of wit, and one not easily remedied.

If you find yourself grappling with this last danger as often as I do, take heart. There is hope.

A good first step would be to fill your mind with things worthy of being said (Philippians 4:8) so that in the event that you do open your mouth, you have a lower likelihood of saying something foolish. Next, memorize and meditate on Psalm 141:3: "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips." Another helpful step would be to consider simply talking a whole lot less. (I didn't say it would be an easy step. I just said that it would be a helpful one.)

Now if you will excuse me, I will be over there in the corner, sitting quietly and concentrating on remembering to think before I speak.

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