Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Laughter Will Save the World


We read a brief essay by John Jalsevac. I had students ask me: "Why did you have us read about underage drinking and pot-heads?" Now, if you are walking away form this essay with the impression that it is about underage drinking or cannabis consumption then I have to insist that you read it again.
The essay was Jalsevac's reflection on the despair and sadness he finds in his peers and people of his, that is, of YOUR generation.
Please answer the following questions about the essay:
1. Jalsevac calls laughter the "most natural expression of awe and appreciation." Write about the last time you had a hearty laugh? Then briefly describe the last time you felt a genuine sense of awe or appreciation? What do these two events have in common?
2. Comment on the idea that "the pleasure of breathing alone" could be enough to make the author "rock with laughter". If this seems absurd to you, explain why? If it seems reasonable, then defend the statement. (note: writing "it's just breathing" is not an explanation, but an observation.)
3. Why, after two years of being "clean" would someone revert back to such self-destructive behavior as drug use? What do you think the author means by the "vague, ethereal, despairing 'spirituality' of drug users."? Give an example if possible, to illustrate what you mean.
4. Twice we find the observation that "words are not enough" to convince someone to break an addiction. What will succeed where words fail? Why?
5. Jalsevac desribes his (your) generation as a "generation of addicts". Explain why he comes to this conclusion. After offering his explaination in your own words, assess whether you arrive at the same conclusion.
6. The author describes this generation of young people as one that "laughs so seldom" and when laughter comes, it is not the laughter of joy but of despair. Yet, as a teacher of teenagers, I find that you all seem to laugh quite a bit (of course, some more than others). So is the author correct that your laughter is out of despair? Do you seek humor 0nly as an escape from the harsh reality that confronts you? Or is your laughter at least occasionally a laughter of genuine joy?
7. Often young people (and old) resist watching the news, or turn to sources like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Do you think this is because the author is correct that to be well informed is to have one's "peace being repeatedly shattered" by what we find in the news? Elaborate on your response. (video of laughter from despair on the Daily Show. WARNING - mildly offensive language)
8. Go to a mainstream media source and observe how many stories are "depressing" and saddening. What percentage of the headlines seem to be about these types of "dark" stories? What type of image do you get of our society by a quick glance at the headlines?
9. The author writes "I think maybe I should...join my generation in their restless orgy of forgetfullness. I think that I should be squeezing out of thought altogether, not just reading and listening; that I want to squeeze out of thinking, to shed that rotten skin." Do you think this is why so many teenagers turn to the mind-numbing pleasures of alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.? Is it the pursuit of anything positive that these pleasures actually provide? Is it merely to escape the monotony and boredom of their very existence?
10. Jalsevac comments about teens at a party, "They drank with a curious desperation, as though every sip was vital to their continued existence at that precise moment." Statistics regarding underage drinking in high schools and binge drinking in colleges seems to bear witness to this. What is it about alcohol that provides the illusion of being so "life-giving"? How is it, in fact, rather life-stealing?
11. Why does the author think that humans laugh? How does our laughter grow out of our understanding of and relationship with God? How does making gods of ourselves steal our laughter and leave us in despair?
12. How is the laughter of a saint different from that of an ordinary person? How may it be "the only theological lesson that this desperate generation will liston to."?
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. Basso

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