By the end of the first day I had the whole class laughing.
“Are you all having fun?” I asked.
“That’s great because when you’re all having a good time, I can work you a lot harder.”
The laughter stopped. Everyone in the room looked at me as if I’d just kicked their dog.
Pretty funny, really, but it shows how tough it is to get students have a good time (so that I can work them harder). It’s one thing to do stand up comedy in front of a class — students aren’t really a hostile audience, they want their professor to be likeable — but it’s quite another to have students enjoy overcoming the adversities that are built into a course.
When the going gets tough, the tough laugh. The harder the going, the more important it is. Laughter works in the classroom. If you’ve just given your all on a class assignment and then discovered that you were completely off track and not even close to what would be considered a good answer, what should you do? Cry and crawl out onto the nearest window ledge? Or just laugh at it, learn from it, and go on. If you laugh, you get another chance. If you jump, well, that’s pretty much the end of it.
Humor, if it done right — self-deprecating and without malice (or, at least, without much malice) – adds buoyancy to the soul, making it damn near unsinkable.
In my experience, whether at karate gasshuku, a football practice, or a business meeting, you’ll find that the best, the true leaders, will be the ones who start the laughing. It’ll be an easy, light joke – not the clown guffaw — that gets the others looking up, doing better, and most important, persevering. I remember when Lou Gerstner was CEO at IBM – it seemed the every executive meeting started with a joke, just enough to loosen up the room, and finished with a laugh. I can assure you that nobody has ever mistaken Mr. Gerstner for a stand up comedian, but he knew the value of humor and used it.
It is aid that life is a comedy to those who laugh and a tragedy to those who cry. I would add that tragedy sucks. We get enough of it and there is no good reason to go looking for more.
Sorrow sinks, but humor floats like bubbles in champagne. So go ahead, laugh, and see if you can float over your adversities. Even if your bubble pops, you’ll, at least, have a better time.
(This originally appeared at Globis.jp in a series on critical thinking.)