Harmful Laughter


I originally drew this cartoon for my friend, “the Murph.” There’s a story behind it, but that’s between me and “the Murph.”  This is the second time that I’ve used this drawing to illustrate something I never intended when I drew it.

The first time I used it to illustrate “System Shock!.”  This time, with the laughter bubble included, the image represents a potential cause of a painful shock to our spiritual nervous system—harmful laughter.

I enjoy laughter. I even like laughing at myself, in a good-natured way.

Here’s an example:  I had a friend in high school. I’ll call him “Wayne.” He had a sister. I’ll call her “Wanda.”  I once paced the basement floor for twenty minutes trying to work up the nerve to ask Wanda to prom—as a friend, of course, not anything romantic, that is, unless she had romantic feelings. Anyway, I finally dialed the number and blurted out a very awkward invitation. The reply?  “This is Wanda’s mother.”

Now, that’s funny—from a safe distance of 30 years. Wayne recently e-mailed me some pictures of his family. I replied, “Tell your mother she looks as radiant as the day I asked her to prom.”

You’re familiar with the phrase, “you can either laugh or cry.” Sometimes, in situations when things aren’t going our way, laughter really can be the “best medicine.”

But some laughter can be the worst poison. I’m talking about the laughter of ridicule, mockery, or insult. That kind of laughter can do serious injury to our hearts.

I had a high school friend–I’ll call him “Don”– who was terribly insecure. Don was constantly afraid of failing and embarrassing himself. Once he was playing linebacker in a freshman football game, with his dad and his football star older brother watching from the sidelines. My friend was so nervous about making a mistake that he would sometimes string out a play and hope that a teammate would get to the ball carrier first, so he wouldn’t embarrass himself by missing a tackle.

At the dinner table that night, Don’s dad told the family that he asked football star older brother what he thought of Don’s performance. Dad relayed his brother’s answer: “Don would make a good roving reporter.” Then Don’s dad, and Don’s siblings, laughed a harmful laugh at Don’s expense.

Don and his wounded heart learned a lesson that day. “It’s best to play it safe. Minimize risk. Reduce the possibility of failure. Whenever possible, don’t even try. That way nobody gets hurt.”

There’s nothing funny about laughter that sends that kind of message.

Have you ever heard harmful laughter?

4 thoughts on “Harmful Laughter

  1. I can’t say for sure how long I will be laughing about you asking Wanda’s mom to prom, but at least I’ll be laughing with you!

  2. Sat in the terminal at Ft. Walton Beach and read this post out loud to Susie May Warren and Alena T. We all three laughed at the “ask the mom to the prom” story — but not at you, Dave. How could we? You handled it so beautifully so many years later!
    And Susie appreciated the football story too.

    • It makes me smile to think of you all sharing in the laughter with me. At the time of the event. right after I hung up the phone, I was so embarrassed that I wanted to hide out somewhere in South America for a few years. That’s part of what makes it so funny to me now. Thank you for your positive feedback.

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