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Guilty Until Proven Innocent

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Guilty Until Proven Innocent

I have been pondering on how some often overlooked relational cues in social interactions may have been influential in building character in this image-driven world. I have identified three of these cues but this post will focus on one of them, which is: ‘sarcasm’. Watchout for the last two.

I was forced to transcend into peoples’ minds at a recent gathering, with a devoted sense intentionality, in the bid to catch the jokes the audience seemed to dismally fail at getting over. Alas! the majority of the jokes eluded me, though I giggled at a few. Here is my point: there seems to be a growing struggle to communicate without having to intermittently introduce often sarcastic humour in order to drive engagement and get buy in. Well, everything is not supposed to be funny! 

The task of reflecting on ‘sarcasm’ as a topical and rather influential relational cue can be rewarding as it helps to deepen understanding of prevailing thresholds of sincerity and integrity as well as the priority accorded to effective communication over loyalty, or perhaps social licensing.


Thinking aloud, there must be a link between dwindling economic conditions, turbulent market fluctuations and political instability, unrests as well as natural disasters etc. and increasing ‘sense of sarcasm’. There could also be a connection between this growing relational attribute and the upsurge of social media interactions and its role in reinforcing cultural exchange. All of these may have influenced the use of sarcasm, perhaps as a coping mechanism for dealing with these issues.


Patterns of the unconscious use of memes and emoticons particularly make a case. For example, I wonder what culture is imbibed when fingers convey ecstasy through smiley faces or teary eyes on social media while facial expressions and  gestures say the opposite.

How sustainable is laughter if it can evoke momentary and/or relative happiness, or perhaps disguised happiness in the absence of inner resolution and closure. This increasing culture of sarcasm appears to have been normalised, although many manipulate the blurred line between sarcasm and satire in the name of ‘constructive criticism’.


This culture has sadly been infused in supposedly ‘solemn gatherings’ whereas ‘filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting which are not fitting’ are not expected in such gatherings.

Not surprisingly, there are many quotes and old wives’ tales which support, but inspire deep thoughts on the notion of laughter:

“Nothing shows a man’s character more than what he laughs at.”~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe”Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age. And dreams are forever.”~ Walt Disney and lastly,”Laughter is the best medicine but if you laugh for no reason, you need medicine.” ~ Anonymous 


While these quotes lend themselves to diverse interpretations, especially the last one, I am forced to agree with Jonathan Coyle, an American actor and influencer who argued that the momentary pleasure that laughter generates can be deceptive (paraphrased). 


My resonance with Coyle’s argument might seem unfounded especially in the wake of the just concluded machine-learning sentiment analysis of the SA #Happiness Index, which showed an unexpectedly increasing trend in the rate of ‘happiness’. 


Professor Talita Greyling, a researcher in the field of wellbeing and development economics at the University of Johannesburg confirmed during a talk show on SA FM this morning (29/10/19) that 40,000 – 50,000 tweets where analysed everyday, during the ‘week of turmoil’ (October 21 – 27).

The week of 21 October was the week in which prominent members of parliament resigned from the Democratic Alliance (DA), a political party in South Africa. It was also the week in which the #Springboks won the match against #Wales in the semi-finals to secure a place in the World Cup Rugby final. Greyling reiterated that while the outcome of the study is not void of limitations and biases, it could inform policy development on the general state of wellbeing. 


I find the finding of this study rather ironical given increasing suicide rates and the low ranking of African countries in the #WorldHappinessReport. Based on a recent report published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a CNN report released in March 2019, seven African countries where on the list of the world’s ten least happiest countries, after Haiti, Syria and Afghanistan in the 2019 World Happiness Report. Sadly, no African country made the top ten happiest country ranking. 


The foregoing commentary confirms that happiness is relative, which as a consequence also implies that there is a huge responsibility on recipients of humour (especially in the African context) to intrinsically observe patterns of vulnerability to humour and the tendency to superficially dismiss pain/anguish/confusion /despair with laughter.

There are also imminent lessons for character building with specific implications for corporate communication professionals and advertising agencies as consumer affinity with humour-based content can be short-lived.  I propose that increasing awareness of the superficial and manipulative nature of humour in marketing strategy could trigger negative reactions to brand perception, product quality, customer satisfaction and ultimately corporate reputation. 

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