The Child with Humor
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
SHE is as rare as she is enjoyable. I, who supposed I knew children, was prepared to assert that they do not possess real humor. They delight in grotesque situations — in the man chasing his hat, the boy sprawling on the sidewalk. The person who can "make a face" causes hearty laughter. The circus clown and Charlie Chaplin do the especial sort of funny act that appeals to children's rudimentary sense of humor, which is more truly a sense of the ridiculous.
But then I came across the Child with Humor, and I generalized no longer. I met her eye, as I was appreciating a rather subtle bit of humor, and lo! there I found appreciation. Now, people with a sense of humor are not great laughers. They are not at all what we term "merry." Nor did the child laugh when her eye met mine. How, then, did I recognize a kindred sense? I cannot tell, except to say that there is as much freemasonry among people with humor as in any secret society. There is a certain look that is as convincing as a special grip or password.
"Go down-town with me tomorrow," was all I said. What I meant was, "Let us look out on life together." And what I thought was, "Bless you! you have one of the fairies' birthday gifts, and there could be none better."
The Child with Humor is scarcely more dependent upon circumstances than the Imaginative Child, for she can extract humor from untoward conditions, just as the Imaginative Child can illuminate ugly surroundings. Tragedy can never claim for his own one who can find light spots in the deepest gloom.
And the Child of Humor possesses the antidote to self-conceit. It may be that I have an exaggerated aversion to this common fault of mankind, but it seems to me to bar one from self-improvement, for how is it possible to better perfection? Self-satisfaction is fatal to growth, and remember Uriah Heel), if you think for one moment that a protestation of humility denotes lack of egotism.
The Child with Humor sees herself strutting, and is vastly amused, or pretending to cringe, and unhesitatingly pulls off the mask. She serves herself inestimably by laughing at herself. The sense of humor in a way detaches her, so that she sees herself as if she were another. She hears the patronizing tone of her own voice, as it addresses some one poorer in money but richer in mind, and chuckles at the absurdity. She secretly makes fun of herself for manipulating circumstances so that she can shine.
At five she does all this? Dear me, no ! not then, for the grace of humor, like all the graces, has a small beginning. It is capable of cultivation, but only by one who himself possesses it. Luckily, it is impossible to kill, for it persists, unrecognized and unseen by all but the initiated. Many claim to possess it who have never gotten beyond the sense of the ridiculous.
O Child with Humor, we welcome you to life ! The world sadly needs you. You will save tense situations. You will transform bitterness. You will see things in their right proportions. Your own great temptation will be to hurt those who amuse you, and so we older members of the fraternity will try to help you to be kindly keen, and to regard sarcasm as the cheap weapon of a hateful spirit. We'll show you that to laugh appreciatively at human weakness is one-sided, unless one also has the power to recognize human greatness, and we'll fix in you the habit of finding your largest field of amusement, your opportunity for sharpest insight in — yourself.