This entry begins a three-part series inspired by a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: BE SILLY. BE HONEST. BE KIND. This helpful reminder is the message on a magnetic bumper sticker that was the gift of another workshop leader at this past year’s 50Forward retreat at Lutheridge Camp in Asheville, NC. Thanks, Laura!
From the time I was a youngster visiting shut-in’s with my mother, I learned that most of the elderly people we visited had a strong sense of humor. One that they would apply liberally to the likes of me—how much fun for them to josh around with a skinny ten-year old!
Over the years, I’ve observed the same thing about the likes of you and me—now elderly folks ourselves—who carry around our sense of humor like a bag of tricks. We may have plenty of reasons to be grumpy or brusque. Instead, we choose to take advantage of this gift as a way of lightening the load that others might be carrying.
Humor is redemptive and enjoyable because it tickles parts of our brains—old brains included—that would otherwise just sit there useless. When we’re laughing, good things happen to our entire selves—the research is solid here, friends. (There’s probably something deeply spiritual in humor, too; Jesus was not always serious!) It’s likely that we offer something valuable to others when we can help them laugh.
I know that “being silly” is not exactly the same as having a healthy sense of humor. Maybe silly travels farther than just being funny? That might be important to know f you’re sometimes tempted (or asked) to put a cork in your own playful self. (Here’s to Puck and Til Eulenspiegel and all the clowns and court jesters we’ve always wanted to be!)
Silly may go beyond humor in some important ways. Some forms of humor can stop at what’s polite, appropriate, intellectually stimulating and non-offensive. All of that good, of course. But being silly ups the stakes on what’s comical, taking humor right up to its edges and daring others to come along. Humor uses words, to which silly adds actions.
Silliness calls forth the impish part of you, maybe even the naughty part. A silly person puts humor into tangible actions, inventing small pranks or playing tricks on others to increase their well-being. Reaching just a little bit into inappropriateness, a silly (older) person can take a conversation past boring politeness towards curiosity and absurdity. Silly people can invite other secret silliness-seekers to come out of hiding. (Many seniors have a enjoyably playful, elfin side.) Silly people can help others see some of what’s genuinely preposterous about some parts of life. Even though silliness can make us vulnerable to others’ sense of propriety or truth, it’s worth the risk to reveal our playful selves.
In these times, anxiety seems to be growing—we could talk about this for awhile, but not here, okay? I can’t stuff my worries back into their box just by thoroughly parsing all the possible reasons I shouldn’t be anxious. Sometimes it just feels good to let loose of my dour self and try something silly—not to grab attention for myself but to lighten up a conversation or tense moment. Maybe even to remind myself and those around me that worries can sometimes be nonsensical.
I’m thinking that maybe there’s a puckish, impish side to your personality, too. If so, take my comments here as a (silly?) authorization to think about how you might crank up your sense of humor today so that others are surprised (or shocked) into enjoyable laughter. You can do this!
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: BE SILLY. BE HONEST. BE KIND. That’s the kind of old guy I’d like to remain!
(Next time: Being honest.)
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