Measuring the beloved Ghanaian sense of humor against actual sense [Opinion]

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Ghanaians are emotionally careless. I don’t mean to be insulting; I am Ghanaian and proudly so. One of the things I love about us is our sense of humor. We are able to defuse potentially chaotic situations by making fun of each other. If it were ever true that laughter is medicine to the soul, then our souls must have benefited immensely from our ability to laugh, even at our pain.

However, the human capacity to draw lines is one of the ways we may lay claims to superiority over animals. We are not like cats who eat their newborns, neither are we like dogs who can’t wait for their own pups to grow so they can mate with them. We are humans, Ghanaians, a society appended with the label of friendliness.

We are a laughing nation

Ghanaians like to laugh and why shouldn’t we? Yet, our eagerness to laugh at everything is erasing the lines of duty and tastefulness in our society. Not everything should be made a joke of. As humans, it is basic to understand this. Another person’s pain or shame should not be prolonged just for the fun of it. No, you are not ‘just joking,’ you are being lesser than you are meant to be. Our ability to make light of stressful situations is one of our shared strengths, but sacrificing our sense of duty to care for each other and to protect those who are vulnerable for laughs is simply irresponsible and at odds with basic human decency. We laugh ourselves into forgiving corrupt politicians who keep depriving us of our basic human needs. We laugh aloud at false preachers on TV forcing poison down the throats of so many people. We laugh over social media fights and gory fistfights, sharing screenshots and videos to the sound of the latest hit song. We laugh at public official after public official who say things like “ↄpepepeepee,” “No aba ba sԑ,” “Citizens, not spectators!”

The most consistently productive sector in the Ghanaian economy is the joke manufacturing sector. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing, except when we laugh at a JHS teacher having sex with his student on a kitchen stool. Except when we ‘memeify’ the pain of a teenager who has had his heart broken by a girl and make it go viral. When an undergraduate student slaps her boyfriend with her charley wotey, that is simply not the time to laugh. Abusive relationships, the embarrassment or pain of children and young people shouldn’t become the raw materials with which we boost our collective aspiration to be funny. We must regain our sense of balance. Sexual, physical, emotional or verbal abuse is definitely not something to laugh at. An adult in distress or in pain shouldn’t be an object of mockery. Emotionally mature people empathize, they do not orchestrate or prolong the pain of others just for the fun of it. We should move to protect and help vulnerable and hurt people find strength and healing.

Served all day long; chilled-cruel Ghanaian humor

Laughter can be violent. Sure, we have used humor to get out of many uncomfortable situations. In fact, as a nation, our sense of humor is partly credited for our political stability. However, more recently, we are using this same sense of humor to attack and inflict pain on each other. We deepen traumas for people who are already humiliated, deeply disappointed or have had an unsettling public or private experience. We are more and more becoming deliberately cruel.

As a society, we have successfully disrupted our sense of safety, even for children. Private conversations are freely shared and ridiculed. Private failures are publicly displayed and made fun of. We are drunk with power to make others laugh and no one is safe. The ongoing laughter over serious issues creates a sense of fear and helplessness that seeps into all areas of our lives, setting the stage for further trauma. We need to be mindful of what we joke about, what we share, whom we harm at the expense of being the funny person. Our sick jokes are making us sick. There is a great difference between allowing our sense of humor to help ease tensions and just being cruel to each other. Social media users are real people with real feelings. We need to unlearn the harmful ways in which we utilize laughter and know when it’s okay to make light of a situation. Here is a very short list of instances not to laugh/joke about:

§ Abuse of any kind

§ Corruption

§ Invading someone’s privacy

§ A child in any kind of danger

§ Not having sense to protect the next person

§ Infidelity (It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve tried to normalize this with jokes, still not funny)

Charley, take a chill-pill!

I agree, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously over everything. I like jokes and I like to joke. But what I am asking is this, that we do not suppress our own traumas with laughter. That we do not weaponize our sense of humor, using it to inflict pain on those we may or may not know, like or even agree with. Laughter is one of the greatest gifts God gave us. But if laughter is truly medicinal, then we must be measured in how we administer this medicine to people, especially those who are in pain. We’ve developed this culture that is blinded to emotional trauma. If you are bleeding internally, we will laugh you to death. If you are lucky enough to have a cut on the skin, then we might give you a plaster and pray for you. The archetypical Ghanaian response to socio-economic or political crises is frightening. Emotional wounds are easily created and the hardest to heal. We’ve been emotionally careless for far too long and we need to start doing better. We are creating laughing monsters— numb, disconnected people who are unable to empathize or trust others. We owe it to each other to be more responsible than this. I read somewhere that rats will avoid actions that can cause pain to their fellow beings. Certainly, this harm aversion trait in rats is not beyond Ghanaians. It’s time to repair the Ghanaian sense of humor with common sense.

By Nana Nyarko Boateng, Accra

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