Those watching this unfold on the news start taking sides, putting us at odds with our families, our coworkers, and our Facebook friends. These are not unimportant issues such as the long-running Yankees versus Red Sox debate. Innocent people are getting killed or threatened with jailtime for defending themselves against guilty people and any one of us could be the next one to merely be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The cancer is spreading and it is people we know that are spreading it by repeating known lies and stoking the fires of hatred. Under the circumstances, many feel it would be justified – if not obligatory – to shut these people up by whatever means necessary. A few of us really start wishing that all the races would hurry up and kill each other off so we don’t have to put up with their nonsense any more. Then we suddenly realize that we are also considered to belong to races and are therefore already targets in a war we didn’t even know we were having.
It is in times of stress like these that we could all use a little bit of humor to smooth the edges. Some of us have already started. I am told of a story of a friend of mine who works as a restaurant manager. That month, there was a watermelon drink the company was promoting and it was required that every customer be asked if they would like to try one. One day, he was told he had a complaining customer to deal with. A black man told him he was offended that he was asked whether he wanted the watermelon drink but the man couldn’t keep a straight face for his joke. They all had a good laugh about it and everything was okay. Humor is always good. It relieves stress and promotes bonding. For some of us, humor is as natural as breathing and permeates everything we do. Not only is humor harmless, but it is often the only right response. It should never be given up under any circumstances.
Then there is the unfortunate story of the Arby’s manager who was fired because a customer mistook his joke. The story is that a policewoman stopped for food at Arby’s. One employee was too busy to help her and called for his manager. The manager (likely to make her feel better about waiting) told her that the employee didn’t want to take her order because she was a police officer. The cop left without buying and now an organization called Cops’ Lives Matter is protesting Arby’s and calling for a boycott. Because of one tiny incident, an innocent restaurant chain now has unwanted attention and a potential threat to their bottom line. Then, rather than take a stand for common sense, Arby’s commits a grave injustice by firing the manager who made the joke. This makes the rest of us hearing of the story nervous that one of our jokes might one day get us into trouble. Many of us hold back. It has a chilling effect on humor at a time when we need it most.
I for one will never ever ever ever ever ever stop using humor, but this is not enough. Others need to join me. We also have to start looking out for each other. Other companies should offer this guy a job. I’d do it, but I can’t even support myself right now. Arby’s needs to be shamed to send the signal to other companies not to be caught doing the same. We need to push back anytime anyone suggests we are better off not making a joke. Cops’ Lives Matter needs to stop bothering restaurants with funny management and go after the true villains: Black Lives Matter members, MSNBC, and Al Sharpton.