Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Laughter and Respect





I am experiencing a relatively rileless summer. Some have noted that this is correlated with the departure of side-deal dean. I tell them correlation is not causation but, on the other hand, it does not rule out causation.

But this is not really what this post is about. It is about two different things. Yes, two for one and if you call now, you will get a pocket sized fly fishing outfit. Operators are standing by.

Laughter Lately I have been thinking a lot about laughter. It's that odd hacking sound people make when they find something funny. Surely evolutionary biologists have looked into this. What is the  function of genuine laughter? Why didn't we evolve to click our teeth  or flex our toes.

An aspect that is particularly interesting is laughter inflation.  It has devalued real laughter. I am talking about social laughter which is not an involuntary reaction at all.  It's a way to recognize others, make yourself seem impressed or non threatening, or just a way of saying I am jovial, fun loving, or what ever. It is a form of signaling. So, instead of saying "Hi, I am Phil, this what I want you to think I am like," you act it out.

I notice this at faculty meetings where there is a fair amount of nervous laughter -- "yes Phil, I am getting ready to say in coded terms that you are a idiot but I am just a nice guy." See, hear me laugh --ha, snort, ha, ha!

I was on a ship the other day and seating near a group of 10 guys just getting to know each other. It was either a laugh riot or a laugh off. Everyone seemed to signal to others that they were good guys by laughing at whatever anyone said that was within a mile of being funny. I think there must have been prizes for first laugh, loudest laugh, longest laugh, and last laugh.

After several days of meals and several hours of hanging out with each other, I noticed the laughter was infrequent. Did they all use up all their jokes? Naw, after about 40 hours of eating together the personality "marking" was over. Each had done what he could to communicate why he was likable and the other had bought it or not. The "laughter" had served its purpose

I also see it with my wife. It's  never in response to anything I say but in response to someone she does not know that well. They can say,  "Do you want a nickel, go get a pickle" and the deep laugh comes on and goes on forever or maybe it just seems forever.

Now laughter is spoiled for me. Am I laughing because it is funny or is it signaling? Are you laughing because I am funny or because you are telling me something about yourself. If it is the latter, please keep it to your self or email it.

Respect: A little over two years ago I wrote a post in which I said I respect people in inverse relationship to their power, status, and income. Yes, there can be false positives and false negatives but it's a really good starting point.

One of the things that can help you spot false positives and negatives is the way people treat secretaries. This is not fool proof. Some will be sweet as can be because that is the way to get what they want. On the other hand, those who treat secretaries badly drop off my chart of people who deserve even an atom of respect. In fact, the first level of a**holes on your faculty are those who treat the secretaries in a disrespectful manner. You might be surprised about who is "outed" by the secretary treatment check list.


1 comment:

Tungster said...

I suspect the secretary treatment test is fairly important for clerkship interviews, too. After all, law clerks come and go every year (or two). The secretaries stick around....