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Humor can have many positive benefits and even some negative limitations in a society. What do you see as two strengths and two limitations of humor in American society?

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Humor does indeed have both strengths and weaknesses in the lives of individuals and in society. Let's look at some examples of each of these.

On the plus side, humor can offer new perspectives about social issues. Yes, these issues are often quite serious, but sometimes people take themselves and their opinions too seriously. A little humor can offer a new way of seeing the situation. Think about political cartoons, for instance. These present public figures and public concerns in often funny ways in order to make a point. We laugh and recognize a truth in the humor, perhaps something we have not thought about before. Humor brings our guard down and helps us gain a clearer vision.

What's more, humor can lighten up a tense situation. This doesn't always work, but a well-timed joke can defuse the tension. One person lets out a chuckle, and nearly everyone else soon follows. Everyone feels better and a bit more centered, and the discussion can proceed more calmly. Laughter actually triggers chemicals in our brains that cut down stress, so we can see the importance of humor in stressful situations.

That said, though, humor can have a negative side, too. Some things that pass for “humor” are far more hurtful than they are funny. Jokes with slurs against particular groups of people, for instance, only make bad situations worse because they are uncaring and callous.

Further, sometimes humor falls flat when a person's sense of humor fails to correspond to that of others. This leaves everyone feeling awkward and uncomfortable. Some may even be offended by the poor taste of the joke, and this can make a situation more stressful and tense than before.

Humor, therefore, must always be used carefully and tactfully, for it can either help or hinder.

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