Good humoured men, villainous destroyers of passion, often tend to be uncles. Genial, impartial, content themselves, they are the first to admonish the cousins at family gatherings to "settle down", just when the games are getting fun. Impervious, cordial, authoritative, they pull the breathless, sweating children from the "cold night air", away from the mysterious evening streets, and the chilly, purple sky. And then, satisfied of responsibility taken, indeed, *achieved*, they return to the Saturday Night Fights, while the children, hyperventilating in the dining room, glower with impotence, conscious of their fading exhilaration.
The children take to pinching each other and whining and pinching each other every five minutes, until some less good-humoured parent, aunt or grandparent shouts or slaps the nearest offender. The cousins, restored to passion by outrage or simply relief from tedium, haul out the monopoly and begin to argue in vicious whispers about who's cheating. Looking back on these evenings, the uncles were always called "good humoured" because they weren't the ones who slapped.
Later in life there is a good-humoured friend, who answers pleas for adventure couched in the code of indifferent inquiry, with predictable, repetitive cooperative response: "Whaddya wanna do tonight?" "I don't care - whatever you want to."
A condemning, compliant, last-hope-down-the-ditch sort of guy, a sidekick to a sidekick, a companion for mediocrity. The kind of guy parents always like: "I don't see why you have to gallivant all over the creation - look at Arnold - he's quite happy to play chess."
In adolescence, the effect of good humour is unbearable. The "awfully nice, really" boys, with whom one finds oneself at the cinema - early show – not even foreign, are generally good humoured. Which is why you're allowed out with them, and not the 23 year old down the street, with intelligent eyes, and a real mouth. Mild boys, with plans and equilibrium, who transform you into someone even you don't like, unaware of the destructive power of kindness. It usually happens coming home. Emerging from some heart-rending film, blinded by tears, volcanic with suppressed longing for any life that is not one's own, you notice despairingly that they are patting you on the shoulder and saying "Cheer up - it's only a movie" and "Gosh, I'm hungry - how about you?"
So, when you finally, relievedly, unhappily arrive home and someone asks you how the movie was, you burst into violent, accusing, misunderstood tears, and wild pronouncements about the unfairness of everything which even you know, don't make sense. The remorse that follows is often enough to push one into good humour oneself as a kind of talisman against the passion and grief, eccentricity and periphery that threaten to keep you alive. An insurance for later life - a future of equanimity. And, after all, it's not bad to be nice - imperviously, safely good-humoured. There are a few eruptions in early adulthood - a penchant for poetry, a flirtation with zen - nothing that couldn't be considered "a phase" by the well-balanced. Or so it seems. But then one collects, like an unrolling stone, a coating of pleasant friends, the kind who remember birthdays, but never weep for joy that you are born.
And because they are so good-humoured, and because it is just too awful not to like them, too self-condemning, too unlike the beautiful, generous, compassionate life you still, secretly, want to live, you end up being them, in desperate self defense.
Causes Harrison Solow Supports
Lupus Foundation of America
Museum of Tolerance