Someone challenged me to read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, and it’s been one of my recent “non-history” books. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t *think* about history while reading.
While several sections caught my eye about predictions of and human reactions to violence, the short section on intuition expressing itself as humor was a thought-provoking reminder for the Civil War era.
“The intuitive signal of the highest order, the one with the greatest urgency, is fear…. The next [descending] level is apprehension, then suspicion, then hesitation, doubt, gut feelings, hunches, and curiosity. There are also nagging feelings, persistent thoughts, physical sensations, wonder, and anxiety…. There is another signal people rarely recognize, and that is humor.”[i]
“Humor, particularly dark humor, is a common way to communicate true concern without the risk of feeling silly afterward, and without overtly showing fear. But how does this type of remark evolve? One doesn’t consciously direct the mind to search all files for something funny to say…. With this type of humor, an ideas comes into consciousness that, in context, seems so outlandish as to be ridiculous. And that’s precisely why it’s funny. The point is, though, that the idea came into consciousness. Why? Because all the information was there.”[ii]
“Listen to humor, particularly dark humor. It can be good for more than a laugh.”[iii]
I found it a helpful reminder to pause and reconsider the context, time and place, of the humor that is sometimes recorded in primary sources. Is the joke really a joke? Or is a rephrasing of a frightening reality that the soldier already recognized?
[i] Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Skills that Protect Us from Violence. (New York: Dell Publishing, 1997). Page 83.
[ii] Ibid., Page 84.
[iii] Ibid., Page 86.