Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Who among us has never laughed out loud when a friend stumbles on the pavement, bumps their head while standing up, or misses a step on the stairs?
I’m the first to admit to being guilty of this behaviour. So I would like to take this opportunity to apologize (once again) to my colleague Janie for bursting out laughing when I saw her collapse onto the floor in slow motion, in little jolts, as her legs went numb.
Clumsiness, loss of balance, falls — it’s the stuff of Charlie Chaplin’s adventures, burlesque performances with banana peels, and America’s Funniest Home Videos children falling and people “getting stuck!” We laugh heartily, often uncontrollably, while watching these scenes.
But shouldn’t we actually feel empathy for the person involved, who is, after all, in a vulnerable, potentially humiliating situation? Rest assured, our laughter is not provoked by lack of empathy or sadism.