My favourite sense

As I continue this written exploration of my praxis as both an artist and therapist, I’m struck by how, like so many people that I serve, I am unable to see the nose on my own face.

When I wrote this earlier post I was exploring those senses we don’t usually consider part of our sensory systems and how they might apply to leadership. The list of human senses I mentioned, beyond the typical sight, sound, smell, touch and taste,  is seldom discussed and includes:

  • Balance
  • Acceleration
  • Temperature
  • Proprioception – sensing the space around you
  • Pain
  • Sexual stimulation
  • Hunger
  • Nausea
  • The need to swallow
  • Cardioception – sensing the activity of the heart

Those of you who have been following me for a while and know that I’m a clown might notice an important and obvious sense missing from this list. It’s probably my favourite sense: humour.

How did I miss this one? Again, I’m a clown. My entire existence has been both blessed and plagued by my love of humour. I’ve spent years developing it, exploring it and failing more times that I can mention.

The question may stand: Is a sense of humour a creative adaptation to being alive? Or is it a fundamental part of being human? Humour has a bad rap. Especially with those who seek to control others through shame and duty.

Here are a few things I know about humour:

It’s personal

We all have our own sense of humour. There is no objective truth about funny.

It’s better in connection

If something is funny for you and not for me – That doesn’t mean that it isn’t funny. It means we missed each other. That is a loss.

All in the timing

When are you engaged with your sense of humour? How is your timing? Everything humourous is about timing. Where, when and with whom determine humour.


Compassion and empathy are key when connecting with someone else’s sense of humour.

Humour is anarchic, aggressive and destructive

Paradoxically, sometimes humour is completely insensitive. As humans, aggression is part of who we are too. There are times when aggressive humour is a great tool to ‘get shit done’.

Humour can be painful

For some, playful, light hearted joking isn’t available. For others, past experiences of ridicule can emerge in the present whenjoking, or engaging in light play. Because humour can be a conduit to past hurts, it can be a great way to access and explore shame with a client.

Humour can help us survive

As the son of a retired firefighter, I’ve never met a group with a better sense of humour than emergency responders. When my father worked, practical joking, funny movies and general silliness pervaded the fire stations. Given that at any moment he and his colleagues could be faced with danger, death or dismemberment, humour was safe haven amidst this uncertainty. And like any survival tool, humour can become a crutch, or an armour if overused.

Humour and wellness

Finally, a well-balanced sense of humour can be an indication of wellness, confidence, attachment and personal security. This to me is essential. The word, humour, comes from the latin root of “umor” which means “body fluid“. Of course this initially referred to the four humours or bodily fluids of humorism. The belief that these fluids, blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm, needed to be in balance for a person to be healthy, while off the mark, was the basis of most western medicine from the time of the ancient Greeks until the advancement of modern science during the Enlightenment.

The body fluid/ the fluid body

So, I rather like this notion that humour comes from the words body fluid. Simply reverse them and there’s what I’m striving for as a therapist. I work to help people to become more fluid in their approach to life. In doing so, I help people have better humour. Fluid, not frozen. Fluid, not steamy, pressured or explosive. Fluid. Consistent. Constant. Powerful. Resolute.

So, how’s your humour?

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