Smarter, kinder and living in 2017

Laughs are precious these days. I turn on the news or open my computer with a vague feeling of dread. It’s always nice to be surprised by a little humor instead, so today I’m sharing a few of my favorites from Facebook. Links to like are at the bottom of the post. Please do.

Along with my growing appreciation of anything that gives me a smile, I notice that I am also becoming bolder in expressing my opinions. This week I had my first letter to the editor published in our local newspaper. Encouraged by how easy that was, I just sent in my first ever Op-Ed piece, a guest editorial on North Carolina’s infamous bathroom bill. In case you haven’t heard, you are watching NCAA championship games being played in South Carolina right now because North Carolina has a law that so blatantly discriminates against the LGBT community that even the NCAA will not hold games in our state.

These days I find myself compelled to share my true beliefs with friends, relatives and strangers once they confront me with theirs. I’ve never been one to argue politics, and I still won’t be the one to bring the subject up first. I like getting along with people. But I’m also finished pretending to be disinterested, uninformed or hard of hearing when others express opinions with which I don’t agree, or worse yet which I find abhorrent. I wish to treat people gently and to listen to them with respect, but allowing myself to thoroughly disagree has improved my state of mind almost as much as the humor.

Part of my growing politicization is that I have decided that I do not have to apologize for thinking the following:
1. Education is a wonderful thing. However you make your living, knowledge makes you a better person.
2. Open mindedness is a wonderful thing. What ever your religious beliefs, being hateful to any group does not please anyone’s God. I think every holy book on the planet is pretty clear about this.

This does not make me an elitist or a snowflake. Education makes us smarter. Open-mindedness makes us kinder.

Finally, the past few months have brought me back to reflecting on two of my favorite topics: time and change. I am astounded that a large group of Americans (larger than I thought) believed that they could live in the same town they grew up in and do just what their parents did and they were somehow guaranteed that would make them a good living. This is basically an assumption that society won’t change over time. Of course it will. Moving, learning new skills and adapting to a changing world are part of survival.

Furthermore, much of this same group seems to believe that someone promised them that their culture, ethnicity, religion or social beliefs would always reflect the majority view just because they once did. Demographics and societal norms change. It makes more sense to work to improve the world that it is, than to fight to make it the way is used to be.

Most people like their cell phones and enjoy their iPods. I suggest that they wake up to the fact that that those are not the only ways that 2017 is different from 1957 and consider embracing this new millennium. They might find that it has a lot to offer everyone.

(If you enjoyed the humor, please go to Facebook and visit and like Neil Degrasse Tyson Fans, Paid Liberal Troll, and Liberal Progressive Democrat.)

Duct Tape and Christmas Cards

For years I wrote one of those newsy Christmas letters. I tried to keep mine short and down-to-earth but one year I apparently went too far. In an effort to not be pretentious, somewhere in my narrative I used the word “shit”.

“There are a dozen or so words that should not appear in any Christmas greeting,” my husband laughed when he read the letter. “I’m pretty sure that ‘shit’ is one of them.”

joannaIt was too late, the letters had been mailed, and if friends or relatives were offended that year they didn’t mention it.  I’m fairly certain that I can think of at least a dozen words that would have been worse, and you probably can too. Still, now that I’m older and wiser, I try to extend holiday greetings that don’t make anyone wince.

Fast forward to 2015, when I have been asked by a few people what I think of some Louisiana family’s attempt at a funny Christmas card that involved putting duct tape over the mom and daughter’s mouths. Outrage abounds, and I get why. There are probably a dozen or so things that should not appear in your Christmas family photo and duct-taped family members is one of them. However, people can make any stupid joke they want on their own holiday cards. In this case, the mom and female photographer both thought the photo was funny.

I admit that there was something oddly creepy about the duct tape on the little girl. It would have been less offensive if they’d just used mom and dad for the joke. Had these folks been my friends, I might have mentioned to them that their cards were a little tasteless, but then again not. I still think of Aunt Trudie, who stalwartly pretended she never noticed my little profanity.

What I wouldn’t have done, if I’d received the card, is laughed. I personally don’t find jokes that make fun of groups of people (including women) particularly humorous. Because of that, I’ve been accused most of my life of having no sense of humor …. which is odd because I think I’ve got a great one. I find lots of things funny — irony, puns, some sorts of silliness and certainly my own shortcomings. I just don’t find making fun of other people to be funny, at least when it involves any kind of mean streak …. and it is amazing how much humor is grounded in that.

I’ve wasted a lot of breath over the years trying to explain that there is a difference between the humor of those normally at a disadvantage (about those who have the upper hand), and humor on the part of those with the upper hand (that makes fun of the disadvantaged). When those who hold the power (be it by size, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental capabilities or wealth) demean those who don’t, there is an ugly element of repression and aggression there.

I realize that this is a subtle distinction to some, and yes there are grey areas. Also at some point the joke is just plain mean no matter who makes it about whom. I’d put any Christmas card involving duct tape over anyone’s mouth in this latter category. In other words, this one is still not funny even if the women are gloating and the males have their mouths taped shut. It’s in bad taste no matter how you do it.

fractal 3I’ve noticed that being told to lighten up is a standard response to those unwilling to be part of mean-spirited humor. I wish there was an equally pithy response. Somehow, “heavy up” doesn’t work. That’s a shame, because in much of what passes for funny, we could use a heavier sense of the message behind the laughter. That heaviness might help us all distill the hurtful from the mirthful.

As for gentle humor, bring it on. I don’t think the world can have too much of that.

For other slightly offbeat looks at Christmas, see my posts “Christmas is Not about Love, but“,   “The Future of Christmas” and “The Women of Christmas.”