Soon after I published a recent blog entry entitled Bad Buskering, I heard from a friend that she wanted to talk with me. The post was intended as a humor piece mixing nonsense about public musicians playing poorly with a critique of the legal system and a dig at the Supreme Court. It wasn’t that funny, but that turned out to be the least of its problems.
My friend and I talked, and she said that I had made light of a horrific experience in her life and the lives of many other women. The blog piece had prompted an emotionally traumatic response that hurt her deeply. Upon hearing that, I apologized to her and have deleted the blog entry.
Humor can be cutting. It can exacerbate trauma. It can, when done effectively, also bring comfort to those – and that is all of us – who have experienced the cruelties and craziness of life. It can help us cope with loss.
My piece on buskering, in retrospect, failed to deliver the comforts of humor not only for my friend, but for me.
When my son was about 6 years old, I remember a discussion we had about humor. We had been acting silly but then I needed him to do something important. He kept joking around even after I said that the time for humor was over. Finally, I said to him, “What we need to do now is serious and you must listen to me. It might be that you can’t tell the difference between when I’m joking with you and when I’m serious. Do you want me to stop joking with you?”
“No, Dad. I don’t want you to stop joking.”
So, we worked out an agreement about what I would say when I needed him to take me seriously. We put some boundaries on humor.
I won’t stop reaching for humor when it stares me in the face. And I’ll probably step over some lines. But Bad Buskering was another lesson in the dangerous consequences of insensitivity. The recognition that indeed, there are hazards in humor.