Humour changes our relationship with distress, it strips the power from trauma and provides us with the ability to take control over what can otherwise be a matter too disturbing to take seriously in the moment. If you laugh at something you remove its power and thus you don’t crumble at the mere scale of it.
Dark humour is a way of accepting something, it’s a way of grieving a lost loved one, getting through stress, battling through the depression-inciting daily grind, dealing with our own failings and if you laughed at a single COVID19 meme in the past 6 months on some level you understand this. I’d go as far as to argue that those who have zero darkness in their sense of humour, could probably use some.
Who are we as employers to tell employees what emotions they can and cannot have? What feelings they are and are not allowed to possess? When people are told enough that they have the wrong opinion, or the wrong expression of emotion, they have no other choice but to hide their feelings. We are raised to understand that bottling up feelings is bad for our health, so how can we expect individuals to assimilate well into a company culture that actively forces them to hide their feelings and sense of humour? Aren’t we supposed to be proactively creating neurodiverse workforces?
I spoke to a woman in the military recently who explained to me that “A sense of humour is key in challenging environments, any sense of humour that gets you through, regardless of how dark it may be”. That really hit the nail on the head for me. Because what is the alternative? Take everything so seriously 100% of the time? No thank you.
Finding humour in stressful times is a sign of maturity and character, taking everything external to you, (for example other people’s opinions and feelings) and internalising it, is in many ways narcissistic and immature. It’s incredibly self-entitled to then go on to believe that another person’s personality and sense of humour should change to accommodate yours.
Let’s take a Security Operations Centre, I’m using this example because it’s what I know. Often a small team of people are conducting triage and investigations of all different kinds for long shifts. Teams have to be prepared for every potential attack they come across and getting it wrong, pissing off a customer or missing a compromise is simply not an option. These people work closely with one another, often rely on one another and It’s very normal for jokes to be banded around, often weird or dark jokes, quite rightly if you claim to have a diverse team.
I previously worked in an incident response team, the middle manager there banned jokes, “banter” and laughing on shift. Seriously he did. He felt that someone may assume that the jokes were about them, or laughing was at a particular person’s expense. It knocked the whole team and people quickly left. That banning of banter crippled the team morale, affected performance and ultimately good people left the company.
I can appreciate that often banter is just an excuse for bad behaviour, bullying, sexism and misogyny. It can make anywhere a very uncomfortable place for people to work. But where do you draw the line? Every stop should be pulled out to make an example of individuals who are bullies or discriminatory. Every person should feel able to do their job in a safe and welcoming environment. However creating a dry, humourless culture benefits nobody but the readily offended. You want diversity? True diversity? Then give your team the benefit of the doubt, don’t suffocate humour out of your company culture. C’mon we’re all adults.
Mother nature gave us a sense of humour for the preservation of our mental wellbeing as a species, she didn’t give us all the same sense of humour, the same thoughts, imaginations, creativity and style and that is what makes us intelligent, diverse and beautiful creatures.
“If you can laugh in the face of adversity you’re bulletproof” — Ricky Gervais 2018.