Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How laughter can alienate people

Nothing is so impenetrable as laughter in a language you don't understand.
- William G. Golding, novelist (1911-1993)

Setting aside the mystery of the language of laughter and my natural aversion to absolutes (nothing is so...), when you are part of a group that begins to laugh based on something one member of the group has said in a language you don't understand, your reaction can be quite negative. Even those who pretend to not care have difficulty hiding their hurt feelings.

Many of us assume that the speaker made a comment that would reflect badly on us, the outsider. While this would not be a likely event, we see enough of such situations on television to believe that it could be possible.

People who speak a different language than us likely also belong to a different culture. Even if we knew what the speaker had said, it might not be funny to us because humour varies greatly by culture.

When we are among people who speak a different language than us, as their first language, we understand that we will comprehend very little. However, when those people laugh at something hilarious that one of them has said, that laughter alienates us to a much greater extent than not understanding the language itself.

The psychology of that is debatable, but my take would be that at a time we most need to feel the embrace and acceptance of a group with whom we cannot communicate with words, having them enjoy themselves through laughter while we are excluded drives a spike into our emotions because we feel more different than ever.

The lesson is to include everyone who is part of a group, no matter what their difference with us because excluding them from something could be hurtful.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to encourage acceptance of those with differences to make everyone more emotionally comfortable. Learn more at http://billallin.com

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