Oh, how we need laughter right now.
Correction: We need the right kind of laughter right now.
If you look at the definition of laughter, you’ll find it’s not always the spontaneous expression of joy we lean toward. It can also express contempt or mockery.
I was reminded of this as I read Genesis 21. There are several instances of laughter in the chapter.
- Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and everyone who hears will laugh with me.”—an expression of joy at the birth of her long-awaited son.
- But Sarah saw (Ishmael) laughing (or mocking in some translations). The root word for mocking is the same as the root word for laughter in this context.
- As a reminder, Abraham and Sarah’s son (Ishmael’s half brother) Isaac’s name transliterates as “he laughs/will laugh.”
I have known people who laugh in their nervousness. They are uncomfortable or uncertain in how to respond to a situation, so they laugh. It might alleviate their own anxiety, but it does little to comfort or respect the other person/people around them. The discomfort spreads. It’s difficult to overcome, but with time and effort, their laughter can be replaced by a pause or brief response that acknowledges and respects the other.
Of course, mocking is a bit more mean-spirited. It can be seen as a threat, disrespect, or dismissiveness. Because mocking is so closely related to laughter, we often excuse it. Whether we claim we’re being sarcastic or “just joking,” we need to acknowledge the impact we have on others, even if we are not willing to be honest about our motivations.
What could those motivations be? Jealousy, insecurities, show of power, defensiveness, revenge, manipulation. Add your own to the list. Basically, the motivations of mocking are not good. We might justify them to be not bad, but it doesn’t mean they’re good. We don’t always know what someone’s intentions are, but we can certainly keep our own in check.
Laughter can enhance our lives. It can also damage others. Let’s be mindful and live with a laughter that shares joy and comfort.