Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Speech of the Day: On Humor

I'm taking a Rhetoric class with Veritas Press, and recently we were assigned to do encomiums on (speeches in praise of) some abstraction or virtue as part of our speeches of the day. It was supposed to be written out beforehand, and then we were to read it out loud in class. The time limit was ten minutes, but the speech could not go below seven minutes and thirty seconds.

The speech I wrote is only about a thousand words, so the night before I gave it I rehearsed it over and over to try to get it above seven minutes. I kept coming in at six minutes and thirty seconds. Finally, after at least four times reading it, I got it to stretch out for seven minutes, fifty-six seconds.

The next day, in class, I had a timer going the whole time so I could see how long I was taking. I had read about three quarters of the speech when I realized that I still had three minutes left if I wanted to get it to eight minutes. I started to panic a little. But I was coming up on the second longest paragraph, so I read that one incredibly slowly (probably slower than I needed to). It must have taken about two minutes to read, because after I finished it I only had a minute left. I came in at a little over eight minutes.

And today I got my grade back: 100 %!

I've included the speech text below. I chose "humor" as my subject.
Imagine a world that's like Hamlet with all the good parts taken out. No Polonius going on and on about how "brevity is the soul of wit," no Hamlet subtly mocking everyone while pretending to be mad, no witty banter between Horatio and Hamlet. Imagine a world where everything, everything is taken seriously. No laughter, no joking, just straight tragedy.
What's wrong with this imaginary world? Well, it's missing one of the main components of any Shakespeare play; and its missing one of the main components of life; humor.
Medieval doctors had a strange concept of the human body. They believed moods and health were balanced by the four bodily fluids, called humors. These were blood, phlegm, choler, and black bile, and an excess of each in the body was thought to influence a person's state of mind. Thus, according to their view, an excess of blood in the body would make a person jolly, happy, and sanguine. Interestingly, the state of mind attributed to that fluid came to be the meaning of the word. Humor, instead of meaning one of the four fluids, came to stand for just the one - the one that produced a pleasant or happy state of mind. 
Right now you may be thinking, really, Lauren? Humor is a virtue? Yes, it is. In Galatians 5:22, we're told that one of the fruits of the spirit is joy. Not only does humor comes from joy, it can also bring joy.

However, used cruelly or at another's expense, it can be a very bad thing. Instead of serving its purpose of lifting someone's mood or of smoothing the way, of bringing joy, when used poorly it brings down, roughens the way, and brings pain or embarrassment. Used with good intent, it can be a powerful force for good; used with bad intent it can be a powerful force for evil. Nevertheless, it is essential to human life.
Why is it so essential? It's powerful. It enriches life. God has designed it to make life easier for us. 
Proverbs 15:13 says, "A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones." And, strange as it may sound, laughing does indeed provide health benefits. It reduces stress, strengthens the immune system, causes muscle relaxation, lowers the blood pressure, and is (well, obviously) a natural anti-depressant.

If you've ever been around a good-natured, laid back person, then you know that it almost seems you can do no wrong around him. Having a sense of humor goes along with having good manners. It makes light of other people's mistakes by turning them into something to laugh about, rather than to be embarrassed about. 
Political cartoons are a great example of the power of this virtue. It's been said that people don't judge the things that make them laugh. Political cartoons take a situation that is very unfunny and make it look ridiculous. People will laugh at it, and in doing so will unwittingly accept the cartoonist's point of view. This is also the power of satire. People are more willing to accept material when it makes them laugh - in part, because of the good feelings associated with the concept. I'm sure you can all agree that you learned more in a class where the teacher was funny than you learned in a class where the teacher was extremely serious. I’m sure you can also agree that you took criticism better when it was presented in a witty or funny way. 
Perhaps one of the more famous examples of the healing power of laughter is the journalist Norman Cousins. He was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a condition with such a funny name that it seems laughable, until you learn what it really means. It’s a situation in which the connective tissue in a person's spine is deteriorating. The pain from this condition worsens when a person is not active – especially at night, when it often wakens the inflicted person from sleep. The doctors estimated that Norman Cousins had a 1 in 500 chance of survival. But Norman Cousins decided to take matters into his own hands. Armed with vitamin C and a movie projector, he rented a bunch of funny movies and books, including the Marx brothers, and whenever he couldn't sleep because of the pain he would watch the films or read the books and laugh until his stomach hurt. Afterwards he would have a few hours of painless sleep. A couple of weeks later he was able to return to work, and he lived another 27 years. 
The ability of a good joke to smooth over an awkward situation was shown in the 2010 Vancouver winter Olympics. During the opening ceremony they had planned a display in which four torches rose from the ground, and four athletes stood to light them. But only three of the four torches rose during the opening ceremony, because the fourth one was stuck. The athlete who was supposed to light the fourth torch, Catriona LeMay Doan, had to stand by awkwardly while the other three lit their torches. So what did the Vancouver Olympics producers do? Well, at the closing ceremony, before the torches rose, they had a repairman dressed as a clown come on stage and pretend to "fix" the fourth torch. It then rose, and Catriona finally had her chance to light it. It was a self-deprecating nod to their mistake that generated a laugh from the crowd and the viewers watching from home. I'm sure that anyone who thinks back on the situation will have pleasant, rather than awkward memories of the accident. 
The play Hamlet is a tragedy, but like almost all of Shakespeare's plays it has undertones of comedy in it. Without these, it's doubtful that the play would be so well-loved. Even in the darkest situation, there is something comical, something to laugh about, if we only look for it. God created this whole beautiful world for us. Why would we spend our time moping about, being depressed, being sad? He has conquered sin, and through Him we are conquering the world. Now, if that's not something to laugh about, to be joyful because of, then what is? 
I’m not saying you should never be sad, should never mope, should never be depressed. Life is hard. It’s been said that this life is the closest a Christian will ever get to Hell. 
But ultimately, in the view of eternity, life is good. Happiness is good. Laughter is a beautiful thing. 
So today, go outside. Look up at the bright blue sky (or grey depending on where you live). Give thanks to God for the beautiful, joyful world He's given us. Then go make someone laugh. Go brighten someone’s day with a little humor. A merry heart does good, like medicine.


  1. Lovely essay! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I have those headphones n' mic too! Don't you love how it can change colors with the...thingies, uhh haha! Anyway, well done on the essay! Thank you for sharing

    1. Yes! Except I lost most of the colored bands a while ago, so they're currently stuck on blue. :)



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