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“Wearing a rubber nose wherever I go has changed my life. Dullness and boredom melt away. Wearing underwear on the outside of your clothes can turn a tedious trip to the store for a forgotten carton of milk into an amusement park romp. Humor is the antidote to all ills. People crave laughter as if it were an essential amino acid. I believe that fun is as important as love.”  — Patch Adams

In the days when kings and queens ruled, free speech was a rare thing. Only the court jester could get away with voicing a true opinion. Dressed in absurd clothes that set him apart, the jester whispered jokes and banter into the king’s ear; because of his position and his hilarious clothes, he was safe, even if sometimes the truth was a bit too close to the funny bone. After all, he was just a fool, and who would take a fool seriously?

No one else dared to say what they thought, for fear of reprisal, but the clever jester had an enviable impunity. Often, the court fool was an adviser that was valued above all others by the king, for his daring observations and honest opinions. The clown or “contrary” is an archetypal figure that shows up in nearly every culture. He holds up a mirror to society and speaks the truth by turning things upside-down and backwards.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, Alice steps into the mirror to discover a world that, although appearing backwards, reveals truths about the social-political world of her day. The author’s opinions and insights were disguised under absurdity and under the cover of children’s literature; so they were published and survive to this day.

Humor is an art form that approaches a sacred stance in different parts of the world. The “holy fool” of Europe whose words were taken as truth straight from heaven; the “sacred clown” or contrarian of the Lakota Indians was a teacher who taught people by changing their point of view. Here is a quote from Wikipedia:

“Heyókȟa are thought of as being backwards-forwards, upside-down, or contrary in nature. This spirit is often manifest by doing things backwards or unconventionally — riding a horse backwards, wearing clothes inside-out, or speaking in a backwards language. For example, if food were scarce, a Heyókȟa would sit around and complain about how full he was…when it is 40 degrees below freezing he will wander around naked for hours complaining that it is too hot.

The Heyókȟa symbolize and portray many aspects of the sacred. Their satire presents important questions by fooling around. They ask difficult questions, and say things others are too afraid to say. By reading between the lines, the audience is able to think about things not usually thought about, or to look at things in a different way.

Principally, the Heyókȟa functions both as a mirror and a teacher, using extreme behaviors to mirror others, thereby forcing them to examine their own doubts, fears, hatreds, and weaknesses. Heyókȟas also have the power to heal emotional pain; such power comes from the experience of shame–they sing of shameful events in their lives, beg for food, and live as clowns. They provoke laughter in distressing situations of despair and provoke fear and chaos when people feel complacent and overly secure, to keep them from taking themselves too seriously or believing they are more powerful than they are. “

Can there be anything more important? Humor is an art form that saves us, over and over again. What is it saving us from? From our own emotional baggage, from our thoughts, and most importantly, from our limitations.

Humor allows us to see the rigidity and structure of the world from a different perspective: suddenly we are called upon to see how easily we can overturn even the biggest obstacle in our path. We break up this obstacle with our laughter; in the process, we heal ourselves and become more like children.

“See what no one else sees. See what everyone else chooses not to see; out of fear, conformity, laziness. See the whole world anew each day.” — Patch Adams (the movie)

Patch Adams challenged the medical establishment, and called upon our humanity with his creativity and humor. I challenge you to spend a little time today being a clown or fool; turn the world upside-down and make someone laugh.

Help build the Patch Adams Teaching Center & Clinic

Copyright 2009 Aliyah Marr

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