The Subjectivity of Humor

Posted on April 18, 2007 by Robert Ringer


As everyone this side of the Milky Way Galaxy now knows, Don Imus got torched last week for referring to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”  I’m sorry to have to break this to you, but I’m so out of it that I didn’t even know what that meant.  My wife had to explain it to me.  I guess the only way to keep up with the debasement of the English language is to listen to “rap” — and that’s something I’m not willing to do.

Which brings me to a theory I have about all this PC stuff.  I have a suspicion that the people who jump on the silliest issues with such voracity are walking around with cranial cesspools on their shoulders.  Why else would they see evil intentions in every slip of the tongue?

To be honest with you, I’ve never even heard Don Imus’s radio show.  Nevertheless, I am ideologically compelled to opine that the public beheading of Imus was a bit of an overreaction.  For one thing, his enemies have now handed him a fortune in speaking fees, not to mention that it’s probably only a matter of time until he gets an even better deal for a new radio or TV gig.

Even so, give credit where credit is due.  The Race Police won another battle by getting Don Imus fired, which undoubtedly made a lot of people happy.  But those same people should think about what this means in terms of our ever-decreasing freedom.

It’s anti-freedom to censor humor, because humor is subjective.  It’s anti-freedom (in general) to try to exile people who say things you don’t approve of.  And it’s anti-freedom to force people out of their jobs because they say something that certain other people don’t like.

I am an unflinching believer in the morality of the marketplace.  If Don Imus deserved to be fired — if enough people decided they were turned off by his comments and stopped listening to his program — he would have been gone.  Quickly and efficiently, because broadcasters care only about the bottom line.

I’m not staying awake nights worrying about Imus’s future.  My only concern is, where does it all end?  Are we going to allow the most corrupt and ignorant elements of our society to censor our speech?  Sounds a little daffy to me.  But, as always, we have to face the reality that we can’t do much about the insanity that surrounds us.  All we can do is work on making our own little worlds better.

And a good way to start on that is to make a personal commitment never to demand the respect of others.  Even if someone accedes to your demand, you can be certain of only one thing:  Whatever respect that person outwardly displays toward you will be insincere.  Deep down inside, he will resent you.

The truth of the matter is that you have no right to someone’s respect.  Respect must be earned.  And to earn respect, you first have to respect yourself — something over which you have complete control.  The nice thing about it is that from self-respect flows the respect of others — as a natural consequence.

Second, purify your heart by ridding yourself of negative thoughts, especially hate and envy.  When your heart is pure, you can feel free to say anything that suits your fancy, knowing that you have no ill intentions.  If someone misunderstands your intent, that’s their problem.  Only you know what is in your heart.

Third, lighten up.  If someone says something that offends you, remember what your mother taught you about sticks and stones.  Then see if you can disarm the remark by viewing it from a humorous perspective and getting a chuckle out of it.

Fourth, if you find that you’re forever on guard about what you say when you’re around a particular person, it’s wise to get that person out of your life.  Life is too short to have to be constantly monitoring your words.  You don’t need the stress.

As to the macro picture, get used to it.  It’s not going to get better any time soon.  In fact, you can expect to see more public figures fall by the wayside and join the ranks of Don Imus, George Allen, and Rush Limbaugh.

It’s okay not to like any of these people, but just remember that the same sword that was used to behead them could just as easily be pointed at you.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.