[FOUNTAIN]Tickle a funny bone, but don’t hammer itOne day, Winston Churchill went to the bathroom and ran into the head of the Labour Party, who was his political opponent. Churchill took the urinal furthest from him. The head of the Labour Party asked Churchill if he was just being modest. Churchill responded, “Not at all. It’s just that whenever you Labourite chaps see something that is large, privately owned and working well, you want to nationalize it.” His rival burst out laughing, and the Labour Party abandoned the nationalization bill it was planning to introduce.
Jokes are often very powerful. They might provide a chance to break deadlock or a springboard to escape from a crisis. The reputed business ability of the Jews is owed to their sense of humor. Jewish children are trained to control laughter. “Chokmah,” the Hebrew word for joke, also means wisdom or prescience. Albert Einstein has also said that his greatest teacher was a joke. Many of the greatest figures in history are well-known for their sense of humor, thanks to this open-minded thinking.
You need a premise when making a joke. The audience also has to be mature enough to embrace it. When former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich spoke at the funeral of Congressman Sonny Bono, he said, “In his first speech in Congress, Mr. Bono said corrupt politicians need to step down. So whenever he came into my office, I felt threatened that he might have an eye on my position.” The funeral was full of laughter. If those attending the service did not get the joke, however, it would have come like a bucket of cold water.
Confucius once made the mistake of making an unwelcome joke. When he visited a village ruled by Tsze-yu, one of his disciples, he found that every villager was playing a lute and singing. Tsze-yu was practicing Confucius’s advice to make arts and music the foundation of ruling. With a laugh, Confucius said, “How can you use a knife that was meant for butchering a cow to kill a chicken?” Tsze-yu asked what he meant by the comment, and Confucius immediately admitted his blunder and said it was a joke. He had meant to playfully comment on the enthusiasm for music in such a small town, but the master apologized when his student found it offensive.
A joke by President Roh Moo-hyun wound up ruffling a few feathers. When he departed for an overseas trip, he said that the country would be quiet for the 10 days of his absence, a comment that some people thought was inappropriate for the president. Constantly making unwelcome jokes is pathetic, but people seem to lack the sense of humor to laugh it off instead of examining it every time. No matter how unfunny a joke might be, let’s just laugh it off.
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.