Before you attend the TED conference, the organizers ask you to jot down three “Ask me about…” sentence completion phrases (kind of like tweets, but even fewer characters). These end up as a footer on your name badge. Cocktail party conversation starter. For TED 2015, one of my three was “Laughing”.
As someone who spends all of their professional time counseling and guiding creative teams, as well as helping to set up the conditions for them to thrive (in my humble opinion, organizational architecture is destiny, but that’s a blog post for another time), I’m fascinated by the role of laughter and humor in the life of a thriving team. While I don’t believe that every second of each day should be full of mirth, laughter, and frolicking leprechauns, my experience says that groups of people with a healthy team dynamic are able to share a laugh when appropriate. And at an interpersonal level, sometimes the best recipe for diffusing a difficult moment is the simple mix of an easy smile and a good laugh.
So imagine my delight at being able to listen to Professor Sophie Scott give her fascinating talk on why we laugh. She really knocked my hat in the creek. Here’s my favorite part of her talk:
The fact that the laughter works, it gets him from a painful, embarrassing, difficult situation, into a funny situation, into what we’re actually enjoying there, and I think that’s a really interesting use, and it’s actually happening all the time.
For example, I can remember something like this happening at my father’s funeral. We weren’t jumping around on the ice in our underpants. We’re not Canadian. These events are always difficult, I had a relative who was being a bit difficult, my mum was not in a good place, and I can remember finding myself just before the whole thing started telling this story about something that happened in a 1970s sitcom, and I just thought at the time, I don’t know why I’m doing this, and what I realized I was doing was I was coming up with something from somewhere I could use to make her laugh together with me. It was a very basic reaction to find some reason we can do this. We can laugh together. We’re going to get through this. We’re going to be okay.
That’s it: if we can laugh together, we can get through almost anything, and it’ll be okay.
By the way, please give Sophie a follow on Twitter. She’s a hoot!