Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Modes of Development (8)

An important omission from Howard Gardner's list of "multiple intelligences" is any mention of humour.

I have always found it significant that humour is generally omitted from the story of development, which is indeed very odd as it constitutes (in all its varied forms) a very important intelligence.

Some years ago I gave special attention to this neglected issue submitting an article to the "Integral World" site entitled "Humour and Related Experience".

I was subsequently gratified when it then later received unexpected attention from some very interesting correspondents.

Without attempting to properly summarise what I have already written in that article, I will make the following comments.

Just as I have been emphasising with respect to musical and kinisthetic intelligence the dynamic nature in which they can provide temporary "peak" experience (esp. with respect to emotional experience), this is even more true with respect to the intrinsic nature of humour!

So humour, for example in the reaction to a good joke can provide a discrete injection of joy that can temporarily light up the humdrum nature of one's normal experience.

In fact the very nature of humour is that it challenges a false sense of authority or transcendence (in whatever varied form this may become manifest). Then when successful it creates a sudden release in recognition of our immanent grounding in reality.
However there is a complementary side also to humour where one can be alerted to a false sense of immanence through realising a more genuine transcendence. For example one may come to believe that customary day to day activities lack intrinsic meaning. Then a person for example who can provide genuine affirmation can then lead one to  - literally - transcend this situation in a new found perspective.

So in the first case a situation that is too dark is suddenly lightened; in the second a situation that is too light and superficial is suddenly darkened (through being given a welcome gravity).

However, humour by its very nature tends to be a very fleeting experience that cannot be sustained on a permanent basis.

Indeed there can be a pathetic element to the lives of many well known comedians who exhibit a special gift for humour, where they often use it unsuccessfully to stave off the deeper burdens of life. And when this inevitably fails, they can quickly fall into depression. Indeed manic depressive tendencies are frequently associated with many successful comedians.

Now in a real sense, humour can indeed undergo development through all the stages of development.

Indeed at its deepest level humour becomes inseparable from a special form of charm that is often especially evident with very spiritual people.

So whereas customary humour is very dependent on phenomenal circumstances (e.g. situation comedy), spiritual charm represents a more refined kind of appreciation that displays intimate knowledge of the paradoxical nature of the human condition, where a great contrast can exist as between ideals and actual behaviour.

And spiritual charm naturally tends to balance the two aspects of humour that I mentioned.
Thus in a formal social setting for example a person may become anxious (through a false sense of transcendence). So a charming person in this context can help one relax through injecting humour into the situation. Then in the opposite context where perhaps one is too frivolous, a charming person can naturally convey a sense of importance to the situation, again achieving balance.

So I have mentioned two complementary sides of humour here in the sudden realisation of both the immanent and transcendent dimensions of experience respectively.

Of course these also have their negative counterparts. A hurtful remark - even when unintentional - can suddenly for a moment lessen one's immanent grounding in reality (which has the opposite effect to humour). Interestingly where tears of laughter can result from (positive) humour, tears of sorrow can be associated with its opposite.

Likewise there is the negative to the transcendent sense of affirmation that a kind remark  may bring. This could result for example from an unexpected request in a work situation, where the characteristic response is stress (representing a temporary loss of control over one's destiny).

Therefore the integrated development of humour requires the harmonious balancing of both transcendent and immanent poles from both their positive and negative directions.

In the end this requires the development of a resilient personality that can remain suitably detached from identification with the mere phenomenal circumstances of life.

Though this cannot be directly identified with the other "multiple intelligences" in many respects their successful development would not be possible in the absence of this wider capacity for humour (in both its positive and negative aspects).

In other words, the key role of humour in this more generalised context is to facilitate the successful balancing of the other key intelligences.

Humour therefore has a special potential creative capacity both in its own right (in generating humorous material) and also in facilitating new ways of approaching problems (through its ability to debunk conventional type responses).

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