excerpt of a mail sent to my friends' kid @ 02:01 am
(Some personal details deleted, but otherwise more or less verbatim. Said kid is around 10, I think, and has some spergian tendencies.)
So, to recap: you had mentioned the travails of dealing with one of the administrators at school who was hell-bent on doing things In The Proper Way - regardless of any logic, usefulness, or anything else - and was also demanding that you Respect His Authoritaaay. This got me to chuckling - and while you were able to recognize that I wasn't laughing at you, I was also unable to elucidate just exactly at whom or what I was laughing. After thinking about this for quite a while, I've come to some tentative conclusions. But first, two digressions: one about humor in general, the other about Halloween.
There are many theories of humor; you can read about them on Wikipedia. What I'm particularly interested in is that of incongruity. One of the more common forms of joke is to talk about A, and then talk about B, and then recontextualize things so that A + B = something entirely unexpected. (Lots of simple puns work like this - e.g. the joke, said aloud, "What's black and white and read all over? A newspaper.", as well as other, longer forms - the shaggy dog story, the brick joke, etc.) But the crux is that reinterpreting what A and B actually mean, apart, together, or both.
Digression the second: as a kid, Halloween freaked me out and I didn't want to participate. ("Kid" extended until about my late 20s or early 30s, as it turned out.) A large portion of this was due to being aware that parents and other adults found watching the kids to be rather humorous or amusing in some fashion, and I couldn't fathom why this would be, and was extremely self-conscious about this. My theory had been, "I wouldn't be caught dead like that!" That's not quite wrong, but it's not accurate, either. I suspect that for most folks, it's people juxtaposing seeing kids as they are, recalling how they used to do the same sorts of things, and then comparing that against how they are now. You generally don't do the same thing as an adult as when you're younger - or if you do, it's with the knowledge and experience and context of what you've seen over the years. It's not something you can teach; you simply have to live through it. (See also: Heraclitus talking about the river.)
Anyway - when you told me about encountering that terribly self-important teacher, and expressing how irritated you were that they couldn't explain their reasoning or why you should follow such arbitrary rules, or express much of anything other than "Just do as I say"... that reminded me an awful lot of how I was when I was younger, and how I didn't understand how people like that worked, or how people might have different mental models and behaviors, and how I've changed in the past thirty-odd years or so. It was jarring comparison, seeing young-me and present-me side-by-side like that, and somewhat unexpected. So, I laughed.
In essence, I was laughing at how I'd turned out and how my understanding of people, the world, and myself had changed, and marveling at how I got to here from younger-me. And I suspect it's the same sort of laughter that I always saw adults do when they saw kids in Halloween costumes - which brought to mind how amazingly frustrated I felt at (correctly!) interpreting adults' emotional state of things, but only partly understanding why they were acting like that (and missing the really important context behind things.) And that made me think I should follow up on our eighteen-ish month old conversation. So, here we are.
Hope this wasn't too dull or self-indulgent. Hope you're doing well.