Whist very much in holiday mode, a sea kayak tour was booked that within a short space of time diverted from its intended enjoyable course. The manager of the hire company enthusiastically decides to recount a joke to forge a connection with his new clients. He takes a look in my direction and deduces that the joke may not be for my ears, advising me to block my ears, although he seems confident that it would tickle the fancy of my two teenage sons and husband.
I jokingly respond that if the joke was not suited to my ears then perhaps it would not be suited to my younger son. He enquires about his age, but hearing that he is 15, unhesitatingly proceeds to recite the joke inwardly to himself, conscientiously ensuring that the joke will be recounted correctly, as we all know how important a punch line is.
Eager to deliver, with a huge smile on his face in anticipation for the affirmative reaction he naturally assumes will follow, he begins telling the joke. It’s almost over as soon as it had begun, so quickly that one could not imagine that in that one moment there would even have been enough time to cause offence. I wish this had been the case, but the words that he so animatedly delivered encapsulated a heinous subject matter; that of pedophilia. The laugh emitted from my eldest son suggested that he thought it quite funny, whilst my younger son looked perplexed and my husband most definitely did not feign any sign of humorous response. I was quite stunned at what I had heard, but with the sun streaming down on the kayaks as they beckoned to be let loose into the sea, I decided to let it pass.
Well, I thought that I had let it pass, but in the moment or two in which I hurriedly took a convenience break I was consumed by an anger so intense that I knew I could not stay silent. I decided to approach the manager, as on so many levels I was disturbed by what had happened. Firstly I could not get over the fact that to some people this might actually be considered a joke, no matter how black humor has the propensity to be, and secondly I could not believe that he had deemed it appropriate to share in the company of my two sons, even though I fleetingly gave him a small amount of credit for recognizing that it would not be suited to a mother’s sheltering ears. With metaphoric steam oozing out of every pore in my body and with a fierceness in my footsteps rarely felt, I marched over to the manager telling him with all the conviction that my small frame could muster, that I thought the joke was absolutely disgusting, certainly not appropriate to share in the presence of kids, or for that matter in anyone’s presence. Rather than apologize, he responded by saying that he thought it was a funny joke, and lots of people find it funny, to which in whiplash speed I told him that I most certainly did not find anything remotely funny in the ‘joke’.
Still without an apology, he tells me that people also make holocaust jokes, somehow trying to get me to concede that on some level that made the other joke more acceptable. At this point I should probably divulge that this holiday is in fact taking place in Israel, a country that arguably would never have been brought into existence without the impetus from the seismic horrors of the holocaust. With temperatures rising, even amidst the strengthening sea breeze, at the insistence of another client, an apology was reticently and half-heartedly uttered. I turned my back on the manager, walking over to my two sons who were putting on their life jackets tucked away in a corner as far from the controversy as could possibly be. Of course this display of emotion and anger did not bode well with either boys who have never enjoyed being embroiled in public scenes, particularly when their mother is at the helm of their deliverance. My oldest son calmly tells me that these sorts of jokes are ‘in’ now and beckons me to leave it alone, clearly eager to leave all this behind and remove himself from the heaviness pervading the otherwise clear blue sky.
The kayak trip was a success, other than the legacy of my darkened mood, yet there was still a matter of unsettled finances, which the change from a chocolate bar was summoned to help solve. I most certainly was not going to return to the sparring scene, sending instead my husband who returned with a much more sincere apology and a summary of a discussion that had transpired with staff, who he was told had for much of the past hour been debating the appropriateness of certain jokes, and in what context they may be appropriate to share, if at all.
I understand that humor can be very cathartic and it is a wonderful tool to help rise above painful moments and situations helping find meaning and validation where all sense of meaning may have been lost in an often senselessly hostile and cruel society. However I think it is a particularly sad reflection on society when jokes like the one I heard today, and hope to forget promptly (as I do with most jokes) are ‘in’. This is one of the reasons that I love working with laughter as a laughter yoga facilitator and educator. Laughter is universal, whereas humor can be dangerously subjective. I don’t tell jokes to make people laugh, and even on the rare occasion that I do, I am mindful that ‘getting’ a joke depends very much on one’s personal and life experience, the context in which it is delivered and language and cultural differences. So on this occasion I won’t tell you the one about the Rabbi and the Priest …
In love and laughter,