Education Week: Using humor appropriately

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Humor, when used at the right time and in the right way, can be an enriching part of life.

Lawrence R. Flake, a BYU religion professor, discussed the place of humor in the Church and in life by quoting and sharing stories of general authorities and Church leaders during an Education Week session on Aug. 22. 

“The most important thing about a sense of humor is the ‘sense’ part,” Flake said, quoting President Boyd K. Packer.

Flake explained that modern media such as television is full of humor, but it often lacks sense.

“Having the good sense to use humor appropriately is a spiritual gift,” he said.

Flake told a story which demonstrated how President Howard W. Hunter could maintain a sense of humor even during a difficult time. President Hunter was once speaking at the BYU Marriott Center and was about to begin his talk when someone ran up to the podium — holding what looked like a bomb — and demanded President Hunter read a statement. President Hunter declined and, for a few minutes, everyone in the room was frozen.

Fortunately, the perpetrator was detained by the police and no one was harmed.

President Hunter was then asked what he wanted to do, and he responded, “I want to give my talk.” 

As he stepped back up to the podium, he read the original opening line he had prepared: “Life has a fair number of challenges,” and then added, “as demonstrated.”

Like President Hunter, other general authorities and leaders of the Church have shown a sense of humor and cheerful disposition during their lives.

Another example Flake shared was that of President Harold B. Lee who had been visiting Latter-day Saints in various cities in Germany, with the help of his translator, a friend of Flake’s.

During President Lee’s address, he told a joke which didn’t accurately translate into German. The translator informed the audience, in German, that President Lee was about to tell a joke which didn’t translate correctly, and then used “scratching his ear” as a signal for the audience to erupt in laughter.

“President Lee must have had a sense of humor because my friend is still a member of the Church,” Flake chuckled, referring to the moment President Lee found out what his translator had told the audience.

Switching to a more serious note, Flake opened to the scriptures and read warnings from the Lord about using laughter wrongly and joking about sacred things. Some of the warnings in the Doctrine and Covenants include not having “an excess of laughter,” and not “treating lightly sacred things,” but “with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance.”

Encouraging the avoidance of “light-mindedness,” Flake again focused on the positive effect of having a cheerful disposition in life.

Flake quoted Heber C. Kimball, who said, “I am perfectly satisfied that my father and my God is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured being. Why? Because I am cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured when I have his spirit.”

Flake read from 2 Nephi 2:25, which gives insight to the purpose of life, “…and men are, that they might have joy.”

Flake encouraged listeners to be more like children, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “guileless, pure, and quick to laugh.”

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