Joe Guse on Chris Farley

Monday, July 23, 2007

Radical Honesty, Freedom, & Laughter

Brad Blanton believes in telling it like it is. His book Radical Honesty written in 1996 hypothesizes that much our personal unhappiness comes about as a result of the lies we tell to ourselves, and lies about ourselves we tell to others. He writes that we can become so obsessed with managing other's impression of us, that we eventually destroy our physical and mental health trying to keep this house of cards we have constructed from falling down. Blanton believes that by being totally honest in our lives we may liberate these bonds that constrain us, and in doing so find a way back to lives full of joy and new possibilities.

Is he right? Reading his book I was struck again and again of his discussion of honesty as a kind of liberation, and in reading this I thought back on my own life and how good it felt getting a particularly cumbersome weight of dishonesty off my shoulders. So what does this have to do with laughter? My thoughts are that much of the dishonest communication that occurs between people does in fact have to do with impression management, and that perhaps laughter can be the bridge across our obsession with what other may think about us. The people I like the most in my own life all have the same kind of self-deprecating humility that consistently comes out in their communications with others. Their willingness to laugh at their own limitations never fails to ingratiate them to the people they are around, and seeing them at work I've learned that it is often the people who are the most humble that I end up admiring the most.

So is there a relationship between humor and honesty? It has been my experience that the answer to this is unquestionably yes. The funniest things are often those observations that reflect pure honesty about the human condition back to us in a way that utterly convinces us of our shared absurdity. Rather than reject this absurdity as meaningless, we may find comfort in the fact that we are all going through this together. As Elvis Costello put in so eloquently in his song The Angels wannna wear my red shoes "I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused." Good advice about the kind of passive volition that fuels the fire of wisdom.

One closing thought about honesty and laughter in relationships. Think about the people in your life you have shared a true, hysterical, rolling on the floor, out of breath, fit of laughter with. What did they all have in common? My guess is these people are nearly always those we have the most trust and honesty with in our personal relationships. It is these people who know everything about us, and have seen us at our best and our worst that we are able to really let ourselves go with, and it is personal honesty that likely makes this possible. These moments of true and unequivocal laughter with another human represent the most powerful kind of human connection we can find, and in these moments we are utterly and totally free of modesty, vanity, and fear. Dropping these pretensions makes this possible, and speaks volumes about the power and relationship of laughter and honesty in creating human connections.

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