Finding humour in politics

There’s humour in ordinary life, but none in politics. That’s got to change.

Politics is about serious matters. But then, so is almost every other field of human activity. Yet humour can be found in every walk of life, but rarely in politics. Why are politicians so damn serious, and what is it costing them?

I was uplifted by the reply of the office of the US President to the petition that America build a Death Star. No matter what you think of the current administration, it can’t be all bad if it has the confidence, wit and goodwill to give a humourous official reply to a light-hearted petition.

It made me realise what politicians lose by failing at humour; they lose their humanity. And their humanity their connection to voters. Part of being “human” is generosity, self-deprecation, and objectivity. Humour says you can do those things. Lack of humour, or sarcastic humour about an opposition, says you can’t do those things. 

Why do many politicians lack humour?

In part it’s the environment in which they work: high expectations and demands from the public, high levels of inquisition into their professional and personal lives, high stakes debates, and human issues where there’s little reason for light-heartedness.

This can clearly be beaten.

Take Barack Obama. He regularly displays what feels like genuine good humour.  He’s able to get into the zone because he knows it is important to his public support.

NZ Prime Minister John Key makes a habit of good humour. He’s not funny. He’s simply light-hearted. It’s disarming, defusing, and connects him to people. Light-heartedness oils the wheels of everyday conversation.

Which is why so these politicians are so successful, and most others are not.

They take themselves, their opinions and their goals too seriously. They raise them above the needs of others, including their voters. They spend so much time fighting to win an attrition battle of opinion they forget how to lighten up.

Democratic politics is ultimately about popularity. And that is not determined by being right. It’s determined first by being liked. And we all like those with a smile on their dial.

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