The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Why people make jokes

Not too long ago I participated in a general assembly. While the event wasn’t very interesting content-wise, the behavior of some of the participants was.

Three participants were exposed in some manner. Out of that position they were making jokes in their way. I’m sure that they intended to contribute fun to the meeting. But they were also searching to distract themselves from the accountability aspect any general assembly has. It meant that there were differing intentions, they wanted to make others laugh, but it was done to reassure themselves. That the jokes all included some implicit reference to power might have been a consequence of the situation as well as their habit. These jokes felt somewhat aggressive to the audience as their lack of reaction and laughter showed.

There is another reason jokes like these are used in such a setting. When the group of participants feels somewhat uncomfortable, people tend to avoid asking direct questions or exposing what they want. They fear that they will not like the answer and formulate their question as a request embedded in a joke. It conveys an elevation of one’s status over the other person’s status. But as it is a joke, both involved save their face. The one who wanted something never asked officially. The one who is not buying in can act as if no request has been made.

When people try to protect themselves, jokes only release some of the existing aggression while binding the existing energy. In a setting in which people feel free, jokes can serve the purpose of releasing the existing energy, freeing it of its tension.



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