TED Conversations

Jim Moonan

Owner/Artistic Director, NorthWind Education


This conversation is closed.

What role do you think humor has in human discourse?

I am a huge proponent of humor used in small measures to enlighten and propel a conversation forward. It is a remarkably versatile and worthwhile ingredient to any recipe for unlocking truths. It has been my experience that TED conversations appear to largely forgo the use of humor as if it were MSG or some kind of unpronounceable chemical additive. Do you think this is an accurate assessment?

On the other hand, many TED talks are well-seasoned with humor and it is standard wisdom that most formal presentations need to be whetted with humor from time to time to keep things “real”.

I’m talking about wit. I’m talking about insightful humor. Twain-like quips. David Sedaris-like observations. Churchillian witticisms. Obama-like levity.

It’s a difficult subject to address seriously. Everyone is born with a sense of humor, yet so often it is kept under wraps when we talk “seriously” about issues.

I am NOT advocating for “laughs”. Not looking for jokes. Not interested in embarrassing someone or offending someone.

I am NOT talking about the “everybody is a comedian” syndrome that seems to infect social scenes nowadays. I am not talking about the pointless, baseless humor meant to shock and offend sensibilities.

I am NOT talking about controversial humor that acts like an irritant.

I am talking about human nature.

How do you feel about it?

Topics: World Peace

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Nov 16 2011: I think humor is useful and here below is why I think humor is a great teacher. In my opinion some of that masters of wit in this form were Abraham Lincoln, along with Mulla Nasrudin from whom I learned so much.

    Through humor our body relaxes from its fight/flight mode to a receptive awareness. When humor doesn't point in a flippant manner that causes someone to be shamed ..... we find we laugh at ourselves and later reflect on how many times in the past that could have been used.

    One example I borrowed from President Lincoln, was his story about the steam engine - (Paraphrasing) There is a steam engine that produces 120 pound of pressure; to run the engine took 80, and to blow the whistle took 70. So when ever the whistle blows the engine stops." I would tell this to my workers when they would lean on their tools and start a beautiful philosophical conversation. In time, they would catch themselves 'blowing the whistle', smile, and go back to work. The nice thing about this, was, they would Smile .... If I had directly gotten on their case about their excessive talking I would have put them directly into fight/flight mode. humor allowed me to by pass that.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.