A Humorist on Humor and Why We Should Humor the Humorous

A quote from P. J. O’Rourke (from a collection of his essays titled Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut  - a collection just good enough to make you want to read more of his essays, but with enough mediocre entries to realize why these were “previously uncollected”.)

“Jim Fixx, author of The Complete Book of Running, died of a heart attack while jogging. He was fifty-two. Among the manifold attributes of God, we must not forget sense of humor.”
Please, do not forget a sense of humor. That is, auditors must have and exhibit a sense of humor if we are to be relevant in any way, shape, or form. True, such an attitude (in most parts of business, not just auditing) is often dismissed, if not actively frowned upon. “It’s not professional” is the most common litany, “If people are laughing, they are not taking us seriously.” If you have ever caught yourself saying these (or similar) phrases, I have two thoughts for you:
1) “Lighten up.” 2) “Humor is hard but valuable work.”
Humor has been analyzed to death (Why did the researcher cross the road? To see what was so danged funny), but it is quickly evident that there is much more to humor than just telling a few jokes. Among other things, humor is about looking at things sideways; about a deeper understanding of what is happening; about approaching the profession with reason rather than argument. And, for purposes of our time together today, there are three aspects that are important to remember.
First, approaching any aspect of life and work with a humorous bent forces one to think about things differently. Much humor springs from the unexpected. So, if you are approaching life/business/auditing with humor, it means you are looking at things differently than most anyone else in the room. And that means you are coming up with ideas and approaches and thoughts that are not being contemplated by anyone else. You have become an idea factory. (It’s a whole ‘nother discussion about whether you are a good idea factory. And, no, you’re not allowed to ask my co-workers which category I belong in.)
Second, humor allows a safe way to say dangerous things. Some of the most famous humor/satiric pieces (think Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”) made damning statements in a way that was almost hidden. I’d love to give you examples of this in the workplace, but I don’t have any. (That is, I don’t have any I can share. I will only suggest that, if one were to closely read some of my humor pieces, additional insights might be gained. Further deponent sayeth not.)
Third, (and the one that is really the reason I brought this whole thing up) humor really helps keep an appropriate perspective and frame of mind. Let’s face it; we are in a cra-azy profession. We are paid to tell people what they already know. We are paid to tell them things they don’t want to know. We are paid to tell them things they should have known. We have no authority, but we can bring down a corporation. We don’t have a direct impact on the bottom line, but we can help achieve a profit. We have to convince people they need our help. We are often vilified. If not vilified, we are tolerated. If more than tolerated, we are embraced with open arms until such time as we say things people don’t like to hear. We are housed in the basement, behind the cafeteria, in a separate building. We are where accountants go to die, where new employees are sent to see if they can survive, where talent incubates to go off somewhere else. We are second-class citizens, we are also-rans, we are the child that is patted on the head and told to go off and play. We are not an animal! We are none of these. We are all of these. Auditors and the treatment of same are a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Every one of these statement is a lie except when it isn’t.
Whether we can admit it or not, there are grains of truth in every sentence above. But it is just this multichotomy (yep, I made that word up) that makes auditing as much fun as it is.  Humor helps us see the ludicrosity (yes, that one, too) of our situation, and helps us accept it for the joy it is.
Put it all together and, while it might not spell Mother, it does show that humor used in an audit situation helps shine lights of wisdom on hidden issues. (And, in some instance, hidden treasures.)
All this to say – do not quell the funny in you or any of your co-workers/direct-reports/bosses. Just like anything, there is a time and a place. But recognize there is a place for humor and, to be honest, with an open mind and an open approach, it is harder to find times when it is not appropriate than when it is.

Posted on Feb 10, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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