The last attitude of the six suggested for wisdom living was called Discernment and humour. However, the topic of humour was mentioned there, more or less in passing. Now we will discuss it in more depth together with its opposite: the attitude of seriousness.
Seriousness etymologically comes from the Latin serious and means: heavy, weighty. And in English, the word seriousness carries the sense of something, which we must not treat lightly because the consequences may be… serious. It calls to mind the face of a medieval teacher with frown brows who carries a cane to punish the disobedient pupil.
Humour, on the other hand, which also comes from Latin, refers to something light, which is funny and inspires laughter.
Seriousness is not an innate quality of human beings, but it is embedded in our consciousness from the beginning of our life. First by our parents or others who take care of us and is continued during our education, relationship, society until death, which is viewed among all possible events as the most serious.
On the other hand, the ability to experience humour is a value that appears since our earliest days, from the moment of the first smile with which a baby, after the trauma of birth, welcomes the world.
We will begin with the gloomy picture of seriousness, but it will be followed by the lightness of humour, which will be presented later on. Seriousness primarily comes from a strong attachment to particular views, beliefs or ideas, usually shared by society. It blocks seeing the absurdity of that attitude and forces us to plough through no matter if it leads us to nowhere. It also hinders our intelligence, inspires worries and provokes anger at someone or something when the situation does not develop according to what we want.
A serious person usually does not like the world around because it is impossible to that it would satisfy all his or her desires. Consequently, he or she has difficulties relating to anyone who does not share the same views. That causes further seriousness and eats such a person from within.
In spite of that, seriousness often has a positive social image. It is equated with honesty and determination. The problem arises from mistaking the importance of an issue with the necessity of taking it seriously, in contrast with being open and seeing the larger picture.
A serious person is, as a rule, stubborn like 16th-century astronomer and cosmologist Giordano Bruno, who propagated the heliocentric model of the world. This view, unfortunately, contradicted Ptolomei’s geocentric views and some fragments in the New Testimony. As a result, the Sacred Inquisition gave him an ultimatum: to recount his heretic teachings or be tortured and burned at stake. He decided the second and he was not only burned but two days before, he was hanged upside down naked with his wicked tong most likely cut. Another Italian scientist Galileo Galilei who also faced a similar dilemma, decided to recount his views. Though he was for a while imprisoned by the Inquisition, later on, he spent the rest of his life at the house arrest, where he created the greatest of his works. The moral of that is clear: serious stubbornness may lead to catastrophic results.
Serious attachment to some beliefs is the basis of fanatic aspects of all religions like above mentioned Sacred Inquisition of the Catholic church, Islamism or extreme Hinduism.
Nowadays, we are facing seriousness in the form of the convictions that the falling apart liberal capitalism, which leads to the ecologic catastrophe, can be “repaired.” Anyone who may disagree is not, as yet, burned at stake but, at least, branded as a pessimistic extremist.
There is a common misunderstanding that, while approaching an important issue like the degeneration of the global ecology, we must be serious. It happens because we believe that through our serious attitude, we do something meaningful. In reality, it is an illusion producing reverse results because it often narrows our horizon, and our approach becomes dogmatically focused on limited possibilities, none of which by itself may be successful.
Seriousness becomes most destructive when it is applied to dangerous situations. It narrows our views, what prevents us from seeing a variety of possible approaches, causes panic and, instead of solving the problem, aggravates it. We could see the spectacles of seriousness when it comes to the current epidemy of COVID-19. The governments act randomly, and their actions and theatrical behaviour increase the already difficult situations.
Seriousness is not an accidental quality, it is a result of a long process of indoctrination, which starts soon after the trauma of birth. In the beginning, the parents enjoy when a baby smiles, but soon after, they are on the outlook of some problem. This attitude, even if a child does not understand it intellectually, teaches it that life is a serious affair.
It is soon confirmed by entering the long, dark tunnel of modern education. Already at the kindergarten level, the child is forced to behave in a way prescribed by the teacher. Later on, it continues throughout the rest of the schooling process. It learns that its grade is a serious matter, and failing a year is a disaster. It also learns to be seriously competitive because helping one another is strictly forbidden.
The family life accompanies the eduction adding extra seriousness to it. Parents avoid humourous behaviour in front of a child, believing that it may cause losing their position of authority. To be fair, I should add that not all parents behave that way, but the majority do.
After a young person enters adulthood, the way to live confirms the already learned idea that competition is a way to achieve success in life. That increases the indoctrination because the competition, by its very nature, is a serious affair. In addition, if a person decided to adhere to some ideology or religion, the seriousness is additionally reinforced.
Finally, a person approached the end of life and became increasingly afraid of the unavoidable, often painful event. The fear of death that usually was present earlier on was often successfully ignored, but that cannot be done any more what becomes ultimately serious.
Humour, in contrast to seriousness, is an innate quality emerging from human wisdom, and the word “humour” is used as its ornament. Among all the life forms, only Homo Sapiens is capable of seeing humorous aspects of reality. The higher-level animals are sometimes playful, typically when they are young, but playfulness may accompany humour but cannot be equated with it.
Humour requires abstract thinking, which enables us to see the absurdity of particular views and opinions when confronted with reality. That is the reason why humour is often expressed by jokes. I cannot resist presenting one of the jokes of popular during my youth, popular in Soviet-dominated Poland and, most likely, also in other countries in the Soviet orbit. They were called “Yerevan Radio jokes.” The very name in itself was a joke: since Yerevan was the capital of Armenia, one of the Soviet republics where radio was part of the state propaganda machine, such anti-regime jokes were unthinkable. They had a format of a question from an imaginary listener and a reply from the radio. Here is one: Radio Yerevan is asked: “When life will be better in the USSR?” Radio Yerevan answers: “In principle, it may be better, but in the USSR, life already has been better.”
Humour is particularly important when we are faced with difficult life situations. It sharpens our intelligence preventing us from falling into the trap of helplessness, depression or fear. It also opens the gate to see the dynamic quality of reality, to see it as a play of energies rather than a solid, frozen entity.
Seriousness and humour in Wisdom living
Humour is not a quality which we can learn, but we can discover it in our everyday life when we liberate ourselves from the seriousness of our beliefs. The way to do it is simple: whenever we detect any symptoms of seriousness, at this very moment, we return to the natural state of resting in wisdom. The question is, how do we distinguish appearances of seriousness is not always straightforward. It can disguise itself even as cynical humour or frivolity, so we need to continue the attitude of discernment to look deeper into our views and behaviour.
Fortunately, many manifestations of seriousness are not too difficult to notice. The most frequent symptoms are fear, anger, impatience, worry, sharp criticism or false acceptances. It often happens when we confuse seeing the importance of a situation as an excuse for taking it seriously. For example, the present hysterical, as well as optimistic opinions on the impact of COVID-19 on the wellbeing of humanity and economy, are coming from taking this situation very seriously. Asking a question would that will help or even change anything, would be considered blasphemous.
In general, if any of the above mentioned and similar emotional states appear, we should ask ourselves, what is its source. It is useful to look at it more carefully before proceeding into resting in wisdom because doing that helps us intellectually to gradually be free from the chains of seriousness.
The relief which takes place after our life becomes less infested by the severity of seriousness allows the energy of mind to focus on solving a significant problem while seriousness drains it from intelligence. This relief leads to humour, which lightens our and others’ lives.
One of the reasons I decided to choose seriousness and humour as the topic of this chapter is our current unusual and interesting world situation caused by the growing epidemy of COVID-19. The previous chapter was specifically dedicated to this disease and focused on its potential economic impact. Since its publishing, this epidemy became the centre of political and economic worries. When the topic of the coronavirus, as it is usually called, appears in conversations, we are confused between being serious or frivolous about it. It happens because we are deeply conditioned to use the importance of an issue as a pretext for a serious approach.
This seriousness is a cover for governments and businesses to show that they are really concerned and do something meaningful. First of all, they permitted the health system to become incredibly costly, so they underfunded it. Now they suddenly throw billions of dollars to show how seriously they worry. But they have not done what everyone with a modicum of intelligence would do: restrict all unnecessary travel because COVID-19, like similar viral diseases, is transmitted human-to-human, while traveling is an ideal way for spreading it.
I am not writing it to preach the evils of the existing socio-political system, but to encourage you to look closely at the indoctrination with which we are fed. Then you will see its absurdity, and that will permit your humour to be liberated.