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When we suppress humor, our world becomes one-dimensional

One of the basic elements of every humorous story, or joke, is to direct the story in a certain direction and then, using the multiple meanings of a word, suddenly change the story in another direction. That unexpected change is what causes laughter (at least in some cases).

One of the most common examples of that kind of humor is the well-known phrase "You can't make jokes to kleptomaniacs because they take everything literally."

In this case, there are two possible meanings of “literally”. First, that the joke is interpreted literally and, therefore, not understood. And second, that “literally” is part of the description of “take everything”, in the sense of "stealing", that is, the definition of "kleptomaniac". (Obviously, there is nothing worse than trying to explain a joke, as we tried to do it here).

In other words, the variety and multiplicity of meanings of the words is the basis of humor. Without that ambiguity, without that ambivalence, there would be no joke possible because the story would not have a change of direction and rather it would resemble a mathematical operation where, although the result is not initially known, it is never unexpected.

Humor is, then, the possibility that things are not what they seem to be, that there is a different interpretation of reality, that the narration that seems to say one thing is actually saying another, and, ultimately, that due to ambiguity (and in many cases indeterminacy), the present is not an anticipation of the future.

When ambivalence is suppressed, when ambiguity is considered intolerable, when language becomes forcefully univocal, humor disappears. And when humor disappears, the multidimensionality of life also disappears.

The subject is obviously not new. Maybe that's why the book that Aristotle wrote about comedy about 2300 years ago has been lost. Perhaps that is why Jesus does not laugh in any of the canonical gospels. And maybe that's why humor has degraded into mockery or imitation or, even worse, it is considered as an insult or as something in bad taste.

In short, it could be said that humor is something like a dialogue between two people where both persons (although for different reasons) are willing to open their minds and hearts to a multiplicity of interpretations of reality.

Maybe that's why humor has a therapeutic effect, because it takes us away from what it is and leads them to what can be, to the alternative, to the unexpected, to the already present but still hidden. Maybe that's why it is suppressed, because suppressing humor is controlling people's minds and emotions.

As British philosopher and humanist Thomas More once said (I am paraphrasing here), Blessed are those who learn how to laugh at themselves, because they will never stop laughing. 

Therefore, humor itself, well understood, is uncontrollable and arises spontaneously. At the end of a long presentation I asked the participants: What are you taking home today? A young woman immediately told me, literally: "Professor, why do you teach us to steal?".

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