I've spent my life making people laugh. On paper, I sometimes come across as pretty serious, but if you polled my friends and co-workers, the first thing they'd say about me is "Ayelet? She's so funny!"
And I never stopped to think why I was funny, until a few years ago.
I was taking a personal empowerment course, and one exercise was to write out the story of our lives. We had to go on and on, listing the reasons and excuses why we are who we are, and what happened to cause us to be this way. Then we'd be paired up, and read our story repeatedly to our partner, who was instructed to just listen, emotionless. The outcome was supposed to be that the whole story seemed ridiculous, and we'd get the message that "it's time to get over it!", to finally put the past behind us and stop fretting.
People were crying, screaming, and walking out.
When it came time to tell my story, I started by trying to make my partner laugh. He did as he was told and didn't give any reaction. I tried again. And he just sat there, listening to me. So I began to read my story. I read and read and read. Other people in the room were crying, screaming, and walking out. They seemed to really be getting it. But I just sat there, reading.
Finally a feeling of powerlessness and failure came over me, and I began to connect. I read my story once again, and I got it. It was as if I were reading it for the first time: "I learned to make people laugh because I was a weird kid who didn't fit in. And maybe if I made them laugh, they wouldn't notice how weird I was."
That's the day I became aware that I'd been living my life under a blanket of laughter. I had been using humor as a shield to protect me. On one level, it worked well. But at the same time, it disconnected me from the ability to relate to others on a deeper level. I had taken on the role of being the "funny one," to prevent me from feeling vulnerable. And my safety was assured under this security blanket of laughter.
The Impervious Shell
There's a kabbalistic concept of a klipah, a shell that envelopes us to block out spirituality. It happens when we do things that aren't the right choices for our souls. When I do things that hurt others, like gossiping, it increases my klipah-shell. It reduces my ability to receive spirituality into my life. And with laughter as a shield, I devised a new kind of klipah to shield myself from the possibility of being hurt by others.
But you might wonder -- what's so bad about laughter? Usually, nothing. But when the laughter comes at the expense of others, when it makes someone upset, and causes them to be hurt, then it can be a very bad thing. It's the laughter that is elicited at the wrong time, in the wrong place that can hurt others and in turn hurt me. Sure I can get the easy laughs -- but at what expense? By making people laugh without regard to circumstances, I had increased my klipah, and built up my walls preventing me from receiving the ultimate light in my life.
Behind my klipah, I was well-hidden and able to take shelter in those moments of uncertainty or doubt, just like I had as a child. I had the comfort of my built-up protection, yet the trap was set to allow me to fall into a pattern of disconnection. The bigger my klipah, the less I allow others to come into my life in a meaningful way. And the more I get accustomed to using my shell to hide behind, the easier it is to be comfortable there -- and not be motivated to work on my relationships.
It's an easy out. But who wants to be out of meaningful relationships?
The Long Road back
Now that I had finally realized what I had been doing, I was faced with the opportunity to make a choice. To continue my old pattern, and be comfortably uncomfortable with my method of protection, or to make a change and work hard to incorporate a new way of being into my life.
The chocolate bar takes two hours on the treadmill to work off.
My klipah had been built up over time, and had grown too much. And now it would take time -- and lots of hard work -- to get rid of it. Kind of like that chocolate bar that tasted so good for the whole two minutes I ate it, but then would take two hours on the treadmill to work off. To make the change would mean a long, hard road of many challenges ahead, with the chance of stumbling along the way.
Nonetheless, the choice was easy.
I started to relate to others without using humor as a trick or a tool. I found out what it was like to just be me, without being funny. And I discovered that people really did love and accept me, even when I wasn't working hard to make them laugh.
I stopped to think before cracking a joke, sometimes forfeiting the opportunity to get a good laugh. I started "editing" the things I would say and the jokes I would tell, to be sure that I wasn't hurting others just because I wanted so badly to make them laugh.
I discovered how laughter can simply be used for entertainment -- to make people happy while connecting, rather than disconnecting.
Laughter is a treasure that is precious and wonderful. It allows for a lightness in the right moments, when tension is high. It creates an atmosphere of comfort and playfulness. But like every other character trait and as with all the blessings in this world, it can be used for good or for bad. I can choose to apply my comedic talent to cut people down and inflate my ego, or I can use it to cheer people up when they are feeling bad.
When I see the chance to get in a quick one-liner, I now ask myself, "Will this make one person laugh and another one cry? Am I getting this laughter at the expense of a person's feelings?" And if the answer is yes, then I know it's just not worth it and I'd rather forget it.
I now take pleasure in being able to interact with others and make them laugh hysterically at times, and at other times not. And I know that each time, I leave them feeling good about themselves and no one gets hurt for a cheap laugh. I choose my words carefully, and sometimes allow a great punch line to fall by the wayside, when necessary. Because I am no longer hiding under a blanket of laughter.