Glimpse: The Joyful Need for Silliness
“This is not the time to be silly,” their teacher said.
The classroom sputtered, and then as if on silent cue, the giggles and laughter erupted throughout the twenty-eight students.
“If you want to be silly, take it someplace else,” his father commanded.
“I’m not being silly,” he said, and then collapsed into rolling on the floor and holding his heaving sides.
“I don’t appreciate your silliness,” said her mother.
She gulped twice, trying to contain her seven-year-old sense of humor. She finally relented and ran from the room, raucous high-pitched gulps of laughter left in her wake.
Silliness seems, well . . .silly. To be released from expectation and rigid adherence to what is the right way to behave. Being silly is well, being less than appropriate.
Until it happens to you. And then it just feels good. It feels good to laugh and cry at the same time. It feels good to let go of all the responsibilities of being proper and adult-like. It feels good that for just a few moments to relive childhood in a spasm of mirth and pure enjoyment.
“Mommy, why don’t you ever laugh?” asked her five-year-old.
“Oh honey, I laugh, I just don’t laugh very loud,” answered her mother.
“Is that why grown-ups only smile?”
“I guess so,” answered her mother.
Her daughter’s head wagged back and forth. Her face was one of pity. “Grown-ups sure don’t have any fun,” she mumbled and walked slowly out of the room.
The age for silliness has decreased over time. Where it was once accepted that teenagers could be silly, we now find ourselves reprimanding a teenager who enjoys outrageous titillation.
A few days ago, I found myself asking a young thirteen-year-old to leave the room to be able to contain herself. She dutifully left. She tried to return several times before she could actually make it back through the door without having a fit of giggles. Her humor was limited to her own thoughts, and had not invaded upon the rest of the group. She was finally able to resume her place in the group and no one seemed to want to comment or focus on her recent demise from “proper” group behavior. (I was aware that she had received a very distrubing phone call the previous evening, and thought perhaps this was what was driving the fit of giggles. Later in the group, she was able to speak about the phone call, with appropriate grief.)
Sometimes silliness is a way to get attention focused on the one who has “lost it.” And usually, it is clear that the agenda for “losing it” is to gain attention. But often the spasm of being silly has more to do with de-pressurizing from often endured or overwhelming responsibility.
People, including children, often are able to cope with tremendous forms of stress, performing far above expectations long lengthy periods of time. When the event has concluded, when the need for alert concentration and behavior has been resolved, the ability to engage in humor and silliness balances the need for relaxation. Adults often label their silliness as “black humor.”
As a society and culture, we do not give enough value to using humor to deflect and avoid stress. The kind of stress that is potentially harmful to both physical health and emotional achievement.
Children who practice silliness are arming themselves with a potent weapon against obstacles that they endure and will have to cope with later in life.
“Mommy, you don’t think my joke is funny,” he said
“I’m laughing quietly,” she said.
“But everyone knows that it really doesn’t count unless you laugh so much you can’t talk at the same time.”
She smiled. He had a point. How long had it been since she had laughed so hard she cried? Too long.