Learn to Laugh

A valuable lesson I learned in college came from a passing comment my speech professor used to make, “The more you know, the more you laugh.” Back then, as I sat in class, I knew what he meant, but I did not realize just how true or how frequently applicable this tidbit of wisdom really was.

What I love about my prof’s saying is that it gives knowledge more appeal than it normally receives these days. In my experience, knowledge is commonly thought of as stuffy, dry, and emotionless; something that puffs up, not builds up. Knowledge is for scholars, scientists, nerds, and smart people, but not so much the average Joe.

The saying gives knowledge a makeover: taking off the lab coat, dress shirt, and sweater vest, and putting on court jester attire. It suggests that knowledge is actually a means to laughter. The converse, “The less you know, the less you laugh,” highlights the fact that ignorance does not breed a happier life. Rather than being something for cerebral and stoic types, knowledge is for those who love to laugh.

In fact, much of comedy (especially forms like parody and satire) trades on an assumed shared knowledge base between speaker and listener. That’s why, for instance, jokes often fall flat – because the listener is not familiar with a term or referent the speaker is employing. Even rhetorical devices such as allusion and pun require a shared knowledge base, which if not in place makes communication impossible.

Moreover, don’t you find it to be true in life that the more experiences you go through, the more knowledge you gain, the more you begin to see the humor of things? Situations that used to frustrate you, you can now face with a smile because you’ve been through them before. Perhaps you can look back on your life and see the irony of God’s leading through sharp corners and winding forest trails, mountain tops and valley bottoms, U-turns and highways that disappear into the horizon – and rather than raise your fist at heaven, you can chuckle under your breath and grin; because through all the fog and rain you’ve learned to trust the hand that always leads you home.

I propose that we learn to laugh – not learn how to laugh, but learn for the purpose of laughter – or at least we ought to. Don’t get me wrong, laughter isn’t the only purpose of gaining knowledge; but it is one of them. Learning, whether from a textbook or the classroom of life, if it does not contribute to a better eye for comedy in life and language, then something has gone awry. Knowledge shouldn’t shrivel your heart like a crumpled piece of paper, but open your eyes like a blind man receiving his sight.

So, learn something new today. You just might find yourself laughing tomorrow because of it.

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