Saturday, December 23, 2006

Laughing at someone else's mistake is unwise

"Laughing at our mistakes can lengthen our own life. Laughing at someone else's can shorten it."
- Cullen Hightower

This sounds more like a joke than advice. But it's true.

Laughing at our own mistakes means that we have not internalized them, making them burdens we carry around with us. That would eventually impact our immune system, which would surely affect the quality of life, if not its length.

Laughing at them means that we have dismissed them as having a permanent impact on us.

Laughing at someone else's mistakes seems like a risky behaviour. First of all is that it's clearly rude and unnecessary. Vaudeville and comics made it seem funny to laugh at the fat lady who slipped on a banana peel and fell onto her back.

Not only would such a fall likely result in tissue damage and possible bone breakage, but in the brief moment of falling the muscles would contract so violently (through a shot of epinephrine) to protect the body from severe damage that severe pain would be another consequence of the fall. An overwieght person who fall hard on their back could easily need to be hospitalized and may even die from cracking their head or snapping their backbone as their shoulders then their head struck the hard surface below.

Nothing to laugh at. But if a person were to laugh at a person taking such a tumble, believing it to be a pratfall only to learn later that it caused a severe injury or death, that person could well carry the guilt with them for years. That guilt also could impact the immune system negatively, resulting in a compromised ability to recover from attacks of bacterial or viral disease.

Laughing at the misfortune of someone else is called by the German term schadenfreude. This behaviour is considered to be socially unacceptable, meaning that doing so could bring about social repercussions, such as being ostracised by one's peers.

As Hightower said, the healthier choice is to laugh at our own mistakes. Then we can help others who have made mistakes so that they don't suffer the misfortune that we avoided.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to show the difference.
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