Recently I read a quote that arrested me. It is profound and carries so much wisdom. The quote is:

 

“Nothing shows a man’s character more than what he laughs at”

                                  Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe 

 

        I simply sat and pondered the absolute truth of that statement. Laughter is a good and wonderful thing as we have all heard several quips and clichés concerning laughing. Statements such as “laughter is good for the soul” and “laughter is the best medicine” are well known quotes in their own right and when we think of laughter, most of us most likely think of it in terms of having a great time, and of it being an expression  of enjoying one’s self and it is indeed both of these things. I cannot help but wonder though how often any of us have associated laughter with being a revelation of one’s character. Does it really have the power and ability to show what a man or woman really values and cares about? I believe it does. I will go even a step further and say that what we laugh at can be either a huge encouragement or discouragement to others who observe what we are laughing at.

 

        I remember well an incident that occurred over twenty-five years ago. A quarter of a century is a long time to remember a specific incident but it made such an impression on me, that I have never forgotten it. My husband was in the military and we had orders to a new duty station out of state. A family who we were friends with threw a going away party for us. It was nothing big, just a few families gathering together to wish us well before we piled in the car and took off a few days later. As some of us were sitting in the living room just talking and enjoying ourselves, one of the men in the room told a joke that was not in itself off color in terms of vulgarity or anything like that, but it was basically a remark that was making fun of another individual who we all knew who was not present at this gathering. To be honest, I was not really all that surprised by what he said as this particular individual was known to be someone who would often make cutting remarks about others that were couched in what he thought was clever humor. Because of that, I was not terribly disappointed in hearing what he said but I remember being somewhat shocked at the reaction of the man sitting next to him as the fellow next to him was someone who I highly respected and admired. I was stunned at the reaction of this man who broke out in uproarious laughter at the tasteless remarks that were made. He was bending over and laughing so incredibly hard that I thought he might not be able to capture his breath and I recall feeling so disillusioned and almost devastated. I was young, was just twenty-nine years old and so I was at an age in which I had not yet learned the lesson that we should not ever put another person on a pedestal as people will always disappoint us. This gentleman never spoke a word…he didn’t say “You are so right” or “I completely agree with you” or anything at all...all he did was laugh, but that simple reaction spoke volumes to me. He revealed his inner self by viewing the weaknesses of another individual as a hilarious thing. I was let down in a huge way that evening but I learned an important lesson and truth about the inner character of someone who I looked up to. I want to be careful at this juncture to say that what I learned was not that this person was a wicked vile guy instead of being someone who is a great upstanding citizen…no, it was nothing as drastic as that at all. It’s just that I realized that this man was not inwardly at a level of maturity that I thought that he was, that he simply  at that point in time, did not possess the character that I had envisioned him as having. I also want to be quick to point out that I have been guilty of the very same thing as I am sure almost all, if not all of my readers would agree to the same truth about themselves. I have heard something said in conversation told as a joke that is either derogatory about either a certain group of people or perhaps another individual or even maybe just a current topic or issue in our society and have laughed when I shouldn’t have. I am just saying that I am realizing that we speak volumes about our thoughts, our ideals, our prejudices, our values when we laugh. Think about it….if we are sitting in front of the T.V. and  something of a joking nature is said whether it be by a comedian in a monologue or on a sitcom or a reality show and we laugh in front of our teenager for example, what message does our laughter convey to him or her?  We do not have to say even one syllable because our snickering, or chuckling or giggling does our talking for us, doesn’t it? By the way, on a side note, the television shows of today rarely have any humor at all that is of a tasteful nature and I recognize that. I am simply using it as an example to illustrate a point.

 

        This may be a new concept or idea to some …this notion that what we laugh at reveals our character but it is one what is worthy of our time to consider. Since we have been young, we have been taught to be so careful and thoughtful of how we speak, what we say, how our words can make an impression and rightfully so as it is prudent and wise to be diligent about our spoken words. Seldom though are we often urged to be thoughtful and careful about what we laugh at and perhaps it is time to give it some serious thought. I think perhaps a good litmus test would be to ask ourselves if what we are laughing at could be at all hurtful to anyone else. One thing I am learning as I get older is that all of us are watched and observed far more than any of us ever realize. Not only do we have little eyes and ears looking and listening but there are also fellow adults taking notice all the time. So the next time you throw your head back and let out a hysterical laugh, just make sure that when you do it is also saying something great about who you are inside, because if we are not careful, we could be revealing something not so great about our character…and that’s nothing to laugh about!