A Cure to Being “Triggered”

James Hassell   -  

Have you laughed at yourself recently? Odds are that you haven’t. Sociologists in America have noticed a recent trend—the decline in our sense of humor. Some of the foremost sociologists in their field, stand-up comedians, started noticing the decline in laughter a number of years ago. In a 2015 article in The Atlantic, both Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld—often heralded as the foremost comedians of their generation—spoke in no uncertain terms about trends in Americans’ sense of humor. They were especially critical of younger, college-aged people. Chris Rock stated that he no longer tours at colleges because student bodies and committees essentially censored his material, making political and intellectual norms off limits and unavailable for comment, criticism, and humor. Seinfeld matter-of-factly said that he won’t go near colleges for the same reason. These comedians are basically warning us that we are losing the ability to make fun of ourselves.

Our culture has come up with a term to indicate when we’ve been offended. It’s called “being triggered.” Triggering happens when free speech and humor become highly offensive to one’s thoughts, feelings, and worldview. And it doesn’t take much to trigger people these days. You may have even heard of the term “micro-aggression,” which is an unintentional statement or action that triggers someone. This means that you likely don’t even know when you’re triggering someone else and have little to no control over it. While clueing-in to harmful micro-aggressions can be helpful in some instances (i.e. locking your car doors when you see a person of a different race is not a reconciliatory behavior), humor can often turn micro-aggressions and triggering on their heads. Why? Because humor, used correctly, knocks us off our high horse.

One of Jesus’ most humorous teachings is recorded in Matthew 7:1-5. And yes, Jesus often used humor to illustrate a point, and he did his fair share of triggering many people along the way. In this particular teaching, Jesus taught us to take the big log sticking out of our own eye before picking the tiny speck out of our neighbor’s eye. How easily we lose our perspective when we try to pick out all the offensive, triggering micro-aggressions in the eyes of another when we have a large stick of self-inflated judgmentalism sticking out of our own eye.

See, most of us judge others because we are fearful and want to escape our sense of weakness. The effort to escape weakness however usually leads not to our feeling more secure but to a greater lust for power. We want to control those people who trigger us so that we can feel better about ourselves. This is not the way of the Kingdom.

A great theologian named Reinhold Niebuhr said it like this: “We become evil at precisely the point we pretend not to be.” I see too many people these days pretending that they are not sinners, and this is dangerous. A stroll through social media illustrates just how many people are trying to extricate the splinter in their neighbor’s eyes while forgetting the log sticking out of their own. Kingdom people are not to be so concerned with getting power to escape our sense of weakness. We’ve found that the only way to become strong is by acknowledging our weakness openly and falling on our knees before the mercy and grace of God. Acknowledging the impossibility of pulling yourself out of human frailty and sin is one of the biggest steps of repentance.

So, let’s start to laugh at how ludicrous we look when we try to play God. Humor is going to help us get through these tremendously stressful times in our culture. While it’s tempting to do “other-examination” before “self-examination,” a deep and humorous look at our faults will cut through the cobwebs of the flesh and give us a fresh perspective on the gospel of grace. When you see just how graceful God is towards you, it will likely become much easier for you to extend some grace to others.