Never Lose Your Sense of Humor

How self-righteous tribalism is killing our souls

Never lose your sense of humor.

My dad used to always tell me this. He used to tell me this as he guided me throughout my young life which included plenty of good times but also a lot of anguish. He’d tell me this amidst evictions from multiple homes. Amidst cancer diagnoses and rehab stints for multiple family members.

Never lose your sense of humor.

When I look at the culture around me — particularly online — I see it as plain as day…

We’ve lost our sense of humor.

Do you remember when people used to share funny jokes and videos online? Those inappropriate chain emails that my uncle used to blast out are relics of a bygone era (though, no, I don’t miss them).

As more and more of our lives move online (much thanks to the pandemic), you can see how we sink into the more maleficent parts of ourselves.

Jonathan Haidt (my favorite modern social scientist) explains in his book The Righteousness Mind that we are innately a self-righteous species. This can be a good thing (evolutionarily speaking). Righteousness fosters group cohesion, enhances personal connection, and gives us a strong sense of self.

But it’s also our Achilles heel when our self-righteousness tips over into rivalry and harm (which it always seems to do).

It’s so easy to call people out now. Especially when the internet lumps us into tribal groups that affirm our most toxic biases making us curl into ourselves even more than we normally do.

In the good ole’ days, if you had a problem with the professor’s point of view, you either addressed her publicly in class or spoke with her after class in private. She had an opportunity to either publicly apologize and/or add some nuance to further the discussion and deepen the learning. And you had the opportunity of that push-and-pull of human discourse.

This is how we grow. Not by being sheltered from opposing views. But by meeting them head-on.

These days, you don’t say a thing to the professor (or anyone you disagree with) in person. Rather, you go home and post it for your “friends” or “followers” online.

We’re incentivized for this behavior through the dopamine high we get when we see that social approval in the form of likes, hearts, consoling tearful and angry faces (even little care-hugs now).

It feels. So. Good.

So many of us (including yours truly, when I’m not careful) move through the world with pitchforks and torches searching for transgressors.

But after the hunt ends, the hangover begins. Call-out remorse sets in. We realize we’ve perpetuated the circle of aggression that we intended to stop.

We’ve lost our sense of humor.

See what happens?

When we talk so smugly and forget that we have a huge plank in our eye as we point out the speck in our neighbor’s (Matthew 7:3–5), our faces harden and tunnel vision sets in.

We’re gonna get ’em. Solve this problem right damn now.

I know… I want to get them too. But when has this ever worked?

Again, I miss the days that we shared jokes online. Yes, there was plenty of animosity swirling around inside the human soul and in the cultural zeitgeist then too. But it was nothing like what it is now.

We have to regain our sense of humor. It’s all we humans have to get by. Things aren’t any worse for us now than they used to be. The human situation has always been a perilous one.

From the moment we breathe our first breath, we’re dying. All of us. And it sucks.

No amount of righteous indignation will make this fact go away.

So, may we put down the pitchforks and torches. May we know that God is bigger than our tribal issues. May we approach our differences head-on. In-person. Armed with love and connection.

God give me — give us — the courage to regain our sense of humor.