This semester I’ve taken a senior seminar about suffrage and women’s rights, and have been fortunate enough to meet and interview incredibly influential feminists from the women’s movement in South Carolina. These women are from different creeds, different backgrounds and fought for various different rights within the feminist movement. But a resounding message that surfaced from these interviews touched upon a particular life lesson that I have found especially worthwhile.
We asked one of our esteemed guests how she chose to deal with gritty disputes and confrontation. She responded forcefully, “Never, ever, forget to use humour. You have to try on different styles and see what works for you, but I chose to approach confrontation with humour. I’ve had men come up to me, yelling, and calling me a bitch. I used to respond with, ‘Well if life’s a bitch, so am I.’”
Call it wit, call it sass, call it a pinch of salt, call it banter, satire, or flair- whatever you call it, there’s no doubt that using humour in politics is an enormously beneficial skill. Winston Churchill, the stalwart bulldog of British politics once said, “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to Hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”
Responding to opposition through equally derogatory slights- even if they deserve it- will always blacken your own reputation before it exposes their ill repute. But responding to opposition with humour maintains a level of dignity, intellect and style that rises above cheap and petty insults.
After I met with the South Carolinian feminists, it occurred to me that the importance of humour is not simply confined to the world of politics. As a viewpoints columnist, I often have to write about potentially provocative topics without adding provocation or causing offense. Renaissance philosopher Desiderus Erasmus mused over this topic, “I long ago persuaded myself to keep my writings clean of personal invective and uncontaminated by insults. I wanted to mock, not to attack, to benefit, not to wound; to comment on men’s manners, not to denounce them.” Using humour in writing allows writers to get their point across in an entertaining, skillful and sharp way while keeping their reputation and grace in tact.
This valuable lesson also applies to the modern world of social media. Nowadays, when celebrities’ lives are thrust into the public eye, they come into contact with unscrupulous criticism on a daily basis. But the best comebacks are the ones that throw wit and banter in the face of ignorance and discrimination. Leading actress from the 2009 film ‘Precious’, Gabourey Sidibe, replied to criticism about her Golden Globes outfit by tweeting “To people making mean comments about my GG pics, I mos def cried about it on that private jet on my way to my dream job last night.” Humour breaks the tension, lightens the tone, and challenges ignorance to think outside the box.
President Pastides recently showed the USC community that he has a fun-loving sense of humour, when he endorsed the satirical front-page story about his sporting enthusiasm in the April Fools’ edition of The Daily Gamecock. Whether it’s politics, speech, writing, social media or simply daily life, a little humour goes a long way. The feminists of South Carolina reminded me that of everything we learn at university, not all of life’s most important lessons can be taught by the book.