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There’s a lot being said this week about laughter, primarily Joe Biden’s inappropriate laughter while Rep. Ryan was speaking during the Vice-Presidential debate on Thursday. There’s little question that the Vice-President was disrespectful to Mr. Ryan throughout the debate, evidenced primarily by his laughter.

Now, I’ve seen attorneys in court start to pack up their papers and books while their opponent is making his closing arguments.  This action, while seeming dis-respectful has the purpose of showing the jury that what the opposing attorney is saying is not important.  It’s a tactic.

While the average Joe may not realize it, there are rules of decorum during a debate. Formal debating isn’t like two guys at the bar “debating” a recent news story or a decision the boss made at work.  What Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan were engaged in was a formal debate, not a local bar debate.

As much as I’ve searched (though admittedly that hasn’t been too much) I haven’t found that laughing at your opponent’s comments is a tactic practiced in formal debating.   With it being a formal debate, there should have been proper respect for each other.  I didn’t see where Mr. Ryan gave in to the temptation that he certainly felt to return the dis-respect that he received.  He didn’t even yell or try to force his way into the discussion, but was respectful when Mr. Biden was speaking, even if he had been interrupted by him.

Laughter isn’t always a bad thing, though.   In the Old Testament, the book of Ecclesiastes says that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” (Ecclesiastes 3:4, ESV). Job was encouraged, “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting” (Job 8:21, ESV). And we’ve all heard it said, “Laughter is the best medicine!” (Likely from Proverbs 17:22 which says, “A joyful heart is good medicine . . .” (ESV).

I went to Army basic training in 1988 at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  When we first got there we were all a bit nervous about what we were getting ourselves into and were intimidated by the shouting Drill Sergeants with their “Brown Rounds.”  While a group of new recruits was being marched to their barracks, the Drill Sergeant brought them smartly to a stop with what would become a familiar command, “company, halt!”  Just then, overloaded with the day’s issue of military clothing and equipment, one of the Soldiers in the formation fell backward and hit the ground.  All of us were seriously quiet just waiting for what was going to happen next.  I think the whole company was holding their breath, not wanting to be the first one to make a noise.  Just then the Drill Sergeant knelt down, got in the fallen Soldier’s face and shouted:  “Who told you that you could take a break!”  While few had the courage to laugh out loud, all of us laughed within ourselves as this anxious moment turned light.  This laughter was just what we needed.

Well-placed laughter is good for us.  When we’re down or discouraged, to be able to laugh helps to bring us back.  When there is tension or uneasiness, laughter can bring us together.  When we are afraid, it can lighten the atmosphere.  But laughter, to be of value, must be well-placed.

Laughing during times of seriousness just brings frustration or even anger.  Laughing alone exclusive of someone who hurts, likely will not help that one who is hurting.  And certainly laughing at the expense of someone else only brings embarrassment and pain. But helping someone to laugh when they have not been able to can be a great encouragement and is likely just what they need.

So let’s laugh!  Not at someone else or their comments, but with each other.  Let laughter bringing us together and cheer us up!  All of us need it at times.

(photo: John Gress/Reuters. caption: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) debates Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (R) during the U.S. vice presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky October 11, 2012.)


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