29 December 2013

What were the most important news topics and who were the most important people in 2013?

BBC year in review
Year review from The Independent

  1. For you, who was the most important person in the news in 2013 and why?
  2. Which 2013 events will continue to hit the headlines in 2014 do you think?
  3. Do you think you take enough interest in world events?

25 December 2013

Christmas message from... Edward Snowden

Whistleblower or traitor?

Hi, and Merry Christmas.
I'm honored to have the chance to speak with you and your family this year. 
Recently, we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide mass surveillance, watching everything we do.
Great Britain's George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information. The types of collection in the book - microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us - are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go.
Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person. A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that's a problem, because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.
The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it. Together, we can find a better balance. End mass surveillance. And remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.
For everyone out there listening, thank you, and Merry Christmas.

  1. Who is Edward Snowden?
  2. Why do you think our governments want to "watch everything we do"?
  3. Who was George Orwell, and what is "the book" that Snowden refers to about?
  4. Why does privacy matter?
  5. How much do you trust your government?
  6. Should we end mass surveillance?
  7. Is Snowden a hero?

17 December 2013

Madiba... a saint?

Not many leaders in history have inspired such universal admiration as Nelson Mandela. He became a symbol of courage, justice, freedom, forgiveness, harmony and hope. He had many virtues, including resistance, wisdom, empathy, eloquence and grace.

But he was also a politician, albeit a charismatic, high-minded, idealistic one. As such, he had a big ego and a sense of destiny which some considered delusional. He was ambitious, very early on declared himself the future leader of his country. He was calculating, cooperating and compromising with the white supremacists in order to eliminate the apartheid system. He was also a cunning negotiator, refusing conditional release from prison so that he could be seen as a symbol of resistance.

Mandela was pragmatic, compromising his movement’s radical idealism (which included the redistribution of land) for the sake of its primary goal: political equality between races. In the early part of his career, he even supported physical violence in the service of equality: “It is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence against a government whose reply is only savage attacks” he said. Only later did he fully reject violence to achieve progress.

Many of the character traits that equipped him to achieve great things were similar to those we deplore in less celebrated leaders. Mandela was an ordinary human being and no saint, but his political brain worked in the service of a great ideal, being a force for tremendous good in the world. In an age of cynicism he offered the hope that idealism combined with cool judgement can change the world. As he put it: “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination.”

  1. Do you think violence can ever be justified in the struggle for freedom?
  2. Who are the political leaders that inspire you (dead or alive)?
  3. How cynical are you about politics?

16 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

Click HERE to view Big Business!

This 1929 film by Laurel & Hardy is in the NFR as it is deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant"...

Fighting for progress, Madiba style!

Nelson Mandela Foundation

  1. What does Mandela mean by "change the world"?
  2. What do you think his ideal world would be like?
  3. In what way is education a "weapon" for progress (what are the other means to achieve progress)?
  4. What is the point of compulsory education?
  5. Should compulsory education be applied throughout the world (why)?
  6. How could education for all children throughout the world be achieved?

9 December 2013

The 10th of December every year is Human Rights Day!

Click HERE to visit the UN Human Rights website!
BBC News
Obituary of Mandela from the BBC

To do/questions:
  1. What do you know about Nelson Mandela and what do you think of him (why is he considered a great figure of the defence of human rights do you think)?
  2. Describe and comment the photo of Nelson Mandela (taken before his trial).
  3. What is "apartheid"?
  4. Who has been a unifying influence for South Africa?
  5. What were some of Mandela's ambitions for South Africa?
  6. What was "historic" about the general elections of 1994?
  7. What is the ANC?
  8. Will the ANC win the next general elections do you think?
  9. Which is your favorite Mandela aphorism?
  10. What is "ubuntu"?

30 November 2013

Buy buy...

Short video on BUY NOTHING DAY from BBC News

  1. What and when is "Black Friday"?
  2. How much was spent in the US on Black Friday in 2012?
  3. What does "GDP" mean?
  4. Why have there been stampedes, injuries and even deaths during Black Friday?
  5. Why would YOU (not) join the online backlash against Black Friday?


According to the BUY NOTHING DAY website:
  1. What is so bad about shopping?
  2. How does consumerism cause environmental damage?
  3. Why is it preferable to use local independent shops?

Other things you could do instead of shopping...

  1. How high up on the list of your favorite activities is shopping?
  2. Do you overshop (binge shop)?
  3. How much of the stuff in your shopping trolley was not on your shopping list?!

20 November 2013

20th November every year is Universal Children's Day

The United Nations' (UN) Universal Children's Day, which was first celebrated in 1954, is on November 20th each year. UNICEF, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, promotes and coordinates this special day. UNICEF works towards improving children's welfare throughout the world.


  1. What is the purpose of Universal Children's Day?
  2. What does UNICEF do (give examples of its actions)?
  3. Why do you (not) give to UNICEF?

16 November 2013


How are people coping?

  1. What is your position on global warming?
  2. How are people coping after the typhoon?
  3. How much is being done to help the people of the Philippines (is donor fatigue a problem)?

7 November 2013

Power to the people...

To do (using the Forbes list):
  1. Who are the most power people in the world?
  2. What makes them powerful (according to Forbes)?
  3. Choose three people among the list and write a very short biography of each.
  4. Which person in the list do you admire most and why?
  5. Which person in the list do you admire the least and why?
  6. If you had the same amount of power as the people in the list, what would you do with it?!
  7. Does power necessarily corrupt?
  8. What is "anarchy" and what do you think of it?

3 November 2013

Lest we forget...

  1. Do we have a duty of remembrance?
  2. What do you think of  the ways the Armistice of 1918 is commemorated?
  3. How would you like the event to be commemorated?

22 October 2013


Quick quiz!
  1. What is United Nations Day?
  2. Why is it celebrated on the 24th of October every year?
  3. How many member nations does the UN have?
  4. What is the name of the Secretary General of the UN?
  5. Which countries are members of the Security Council?
  6. What are the aims of the UN?
  7. How many children's lives are saved by the UN vaccination programme every year?
  8. Who said: "So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons".
  9. How many Blue Berets are there?
  10. Click HERE to test your knowledge of UN history!

Assignement 1: who, what, where, how, why?

Research and prepare a short oral presentation on one of the following topics:
  • The Atlantic Charter and the the UN Charter
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • The General Assembly
  • The Security Council
  • UN Peacekeeping
  • The Economic and Social Council
  • The Secretary General
  • The Secretary-General's message for 2013 (click HERE!)
  • The WHO
  • FAO
  • Millenium Development Goals
  • UNICEF The State of the World's Children 2013 report
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • What should be done about child soldiers?
  • Global Education First Initiative (click HERE!)
  • A World at School
  • UNiting for Youth

Assignement 2: the UN in action!
  1. Click HERE: UN News Centre
  3. In the In Focus section, choose one of the topics, read/listen/watch, then summarise UN involvement.
  4. Watch UN WEB TV (click HERE!), summarise the news, and list the questions the news item(s) bring up for you.
  5. In the News by Topic section, chose one of the topics, give an overview of UN actions, then chose a particular subsection to report on for your school webzine (entitle your short article: "The UN, doing good")

Assignement 3: apply for an internship at the UN!

  1. Choose a domain you would like to work in (look at the poster above).
  2. Study what the UN does in the domain you have chosen.
  3. Study the web page on internships at the UN (click HERE!)
  4. Write a motivation letter to apply for an internship at the UN (outline the necessary qualities and skills you think are needed to do the job you are applying for, then describe an experience you have had which proves you have the necessary qualities and skills to do the job!).
  5. Do a mock interview for the internship.

Assignement 4: discuss!
  1. What, according to you, is wrong with the world?
  2. What is positive about the state of the world (what gives you hope)?
  3. What positive initiatives are being taken (by the UN and others) to solve problems (cf. Ban's message for 2013)?
  4. What criticisms are made of the UN?
  5. Write a speech that you have been invited to give to the UN General Assembly on your solutions to the world's problems!

Assignement 5: compete!

Take part in the essay-writing contest "Many languages, one world" (click HERE!)

5 October 2013

USA government shutdown

Click HERE to read an article from Our Little Earth on the US government shut down!

Text adapted from the article in Our Little Earth:

On October 1st 2013, part of the government of the United States shut down. The government was not able to pay the salaries of over 700,000 of its employees. Many government-run programs such as the national parks, museums, and famous sites like the Statue of Liberty in New York had to be closed.

Doesn’t the United States government have the money to pay its employees? The way it works in the United States is that a new budget for government spending has to be approved every year by the government itself. This budget determines how much money is going to be spent on the various government programs, agencies, and employees. The deadline for approving the budget was September 30th 2013, but the people in the government couldn't agree on it. Therefore, as of October 1st, the government did not have funds for all its employees and many of its programs.

The United States has multiple political parties, but the two main ones are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Barack Obama, the country’s President, belongs to the Democratic Party. People of both political parties are part of the government (the Congress, i.e. the House of Representatives plus the Senate). These decision-makers could not agree on how to spend money over the coming year. The main argument is about Obama Care a new health care law, which is supported by the Democrats and opposed by the Republicans. The new law requires government funds (and therefore a tax rise), and the folks in the government could not reach a decision on money for it. It is unclear for how long the government will be shut down…

Some government programs are still up and running. For example, the U.S. Postal Service is still delivering mail, soldiers continue to guard the country, the air traffic controllers are still guiding planes, prison guards are keeping a watch over the criminals in jails, and the astronauts in space are still being supported.

This isn't the first time the US government has shut down. The last time was in 1996 (the shutdown lasted 21 days).

  1. Why has the Statue of Liberty closed?
  2. What is the Federal budget?
  3. Who has voted against the budget and why?

28 September 2013

30th September every year is INTERNATIONAL TRANSLATION DAY!

To celebrate INTERNATIONAL TRANSLATION DAY, enjoy translating into English the following text!

L’immense diversité des langues et des dialectes du monde crée des barrières à la communication qui touchent tous les aspects de la vie quotidienne. Les migrations humaines et la mondialisation font ressortir la nécessité d’une communication fluide d’une culture à l’autre. Les traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes professionnels ont un rôle essentiel à jouer à cet égard. Œuvrant parfois dans des conditions difficiles telles que les fluctuations du marché ou les conflits armés, ils poursuivent néanmoins sans relâche leurs efforts visant à surmonter les barrières linguistiques et à rapprocher les gens.

15 September 2013

Can we learn to live in peace?

Click HERE!

To do:
  1. Translate into French the UN Secretary General's 2013 message for International Day of Peace.
  2. Finish the following sentence: "Peace is..." (whilst listening to this music: Lux Aurumque)
  3. Is there peace in YOUR life, family, classroom, town, region?
  4. Have you ever been an eyewitness of violence (describe what happened and how you reacted)? 
  5. Organize a peace education ACTIVITY in your school/work place to mark International Peace Day 2013!
  6. Listen to some of the TED talks by people trying to promote peace in the world: Click HERE!

12 September 2013

12 years on...

On september 11, 2001, nineteen al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes, intending to strike the World Trade Center in New York City and targets in Washington, D.C. The hijackers deliberately crashed American Airlines Flight 11, carrying 87 passengers and crew, into 1 WTC, the North Tower, and United Airlines Flight 175, carrying 60 passengers and crew, into 2 WTC, the South Tower. The hijackers also deliberately crashed American Airlines Flight 77, carrying 59 passengers and crew, into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C. After learning of the other attacks through cell phone calls, passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, carrying 40 passengers and crew, launched a counter-attack on the hijackers to seize control of the aircraft. As a result of their actions, Flight 93 crashed into an empty field in Somerset County in western Pennsylvania, instead of the hijackers’ intended target, believed to have been the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. In New York City and Washington, D.C., thousands of people evacuated safely. Tragically, nearly 3,000 lives were lost – representing the largest death toll from a hostile attack by a foreign entity on American soil. The attacks triggered immediate rescue and recovery operations at all three sites. In the aftermath, donations of money and supplies poured in and people came from all over the world to volunteer their help. Vigils, memorials, and prayer services were held in New York City, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, and all over the world. While the voids in New York City’s lower Manhattan and the destruction at the crash sites are reminders of loss, the outpouring of generosity and assistance in response to the attacks demonstrates the resilience of the human spirit.

The above extract is taken from a document published by the 9/11 Memorial (http://www.911memorial.org/)

Wallet found at Ground Zero...

To do:
Interview someone about where they were and what they were doing on the 9th of September 2001; what is the significance of the event to them and how, according to them, should we commemorate 9/11?

5 September 2013

L'shanah tovah!

In the Jewish calendar, it's the year 5774... Click HERE to find out more!
What do Jews traditionally eat during Rosh Hashana?

  1. What does "Rosh Hashana" mean?
  2. On what days is Rosh Hashana this year?
  3. What does Rosh Hashana commemorate?
  4. What is the traditional Hebrew New Year's greeting?
  5. What and when is Yom Kippur?
  6. What is a synagogue?
  7. What is a shofar?
  8. What "good" and "bad" deeds have YOU done this past year?!

2 June 2013

This House Believes That Reality TV Should Be Banned!

Michael presides: Hi everyone and welcome to the last debate of the school year! Today we’ll talk about reality TV: unscripted situations, apparently real events featuring unknown people instead of professional actors. Frequent interviews with the participants serve as the show's narration, and there is often an emphasis on drama and personal conflict. Competition-based reality shows, a notable subset, often have additional common elements such as one participant being eliminated per episode, a panel of judges, and the concept of immunity from elimination… So now please welcome James and Hadrien who are genuine reality TV actors! And now also welcome Julie who is a total fan of reality shows! We are also delighted to welcome Roch, a journalist who campaigns against trash TV, Agathe who is someone who intensely dislikes the genre, and our special guest, the famous actress Madeleine, who will voice her professional opinion… Beware James!

James is AGAINST: Thanks, fans! Let’s face it: reality TV is just the best way for young people to escape from their "reality"! They need to have a laugh, see the world differently... The settings make them dream: Miami, Ibiza, Los Angeles, Mykonos, etc. There are always beautiful girls and handsome guys, and life is more fun there: parties, nightclubs, alcohol, drugs, sex, fun, fun, and fun!

Hadrien is AGAINST: For me, reality TV is really amazing; everybody watches it! If you’ve seen a reality show in the last 24 hours, shout “Nabila!” There you go! And why are these shows so popular? Because they make us dream! Girls are gorgeous and boys are brawny in TV reality-land, I mean for real, not just when the cameras are on; just look at James! There is lots of sex of course, love sometimes, the girls often throw tantrums, but then that way we get less bored… And we go to incredible parties all the time! It is life as it should be, as you in this room would all like it to be, admit it!

Julie is AGAINST: “Let the sun shine, let the sunshine in!" Life at school is so boring, teachers are so boring, parents are so boring, and life is so boring! I would prefer to live with Hadrien or even James, wear beautiful clothes and sexy swim suits on my perfect body, and go to the beach with all my friends! I would have lots of money and just forget my boring existence. Living in a reality show is living your dream! I could become a body guard, a singer or a top model. Hopes and dreams give meaning  to our lives. When I wear those shoes, and watch her talk, I feel like I am Nabila, my heroine! “Les Anges (de la téléréalité)” is my all-time favorite TV show!

Roch is FOR: Good morning people, I'm Roch Le Cornec. I’m an investigative journalist. One of the things I have looked into real close is so-called “reality” TV shows… Fact: people watch television, too much TV. The government controls society through TV and people are no longer able to think for themselves! Reality TV is a drug: people become hooked on e trivial lives of these second-rate actors and copy their habits and values. It’s pathetic! This trash TV is destroying society! Moreover with SMS votes, the viewer thinks he can control the scene he is watching! But TV reality is not reality… We no longer have any control in the real world!

Agathe is FOR: Yes, it’s Big Brother watching… I am against reality TV shows because they do not reflect reality and everything in them is so false. As far as I’m concerned, watching reality TV allows people not to think about their daily lives. It is entertainment, but it is ridiculous. The candidates are stereotypes, like the “blond girl” or the “nice boy”. Some people follow the episodes religiously and get caught up in the histrionics. The TV channels make their money from the sensationalism.

Madeleine is FOR: Reality TV is like a very bad movie, I mean, it is really the dumbest form of entertainment. You see, the actors pretend to be normal people in “real life” situations? It’s the opposite of what a movie should be! Plus, the “normality” that is depicted is really immoral or amoral; most of the characters are stupid too. The actors are obviously making a lot of money, but is it honestly earned? They have no professional integrity! Their roles are not even funny. But to make people laugh you need talent…

27 May 2013

This House Believes That School Is Still Relevant

Valentin Derepas is FOR the motion

George Washington Carver said: “Education is the key to unlocking the golden door of freedom”. Thanks to school, everyone can get the knowledge that is so important for our futures! Education helps us understand the world and makes us independent-minded and able to rely on ourselves. And a well-informed and educated people can make a democracy work properly. Education is what makes us good citizens. How would you have been able to take part in this debate without the education you get from this school?

The French school system was only set up in 1881 (by Jules Ferry). It was a major advance for society! And it works pretty well today, so why do we want to reform it?! I hear that we “work too much”, is that it? It’s not the fault of the school system if we have become lazy in this country! Taking advantage of a good education does still mean having to work hard…

My final comment is this: school is relevant on a daily basis to 15 Million pupils; if we get rid of school, what will all those young people do?!

William Devouard is AGAINST the motion

Well, I’d like to thank my opponent for sharing his point of view… There are several points I’d like to go over with you if I may, Valentin?

First, you said something to the effect that school turns us into model citizens. Fair enough, but who in this room thinks he’s a good citizen thanks to school? OK, well you have obviously been brainwashed! School should be a place to acquire knowledge, not where you are indoctrinated into believing the State is right!

Then, you said school is important because it makes us able to think for ourselves, but actually we are just ingesting an incredible amount of facts, concepts, formulae, dates, etc., so that we can vomit them all back up on exam day…

You described the school system as still being efficient. No, it might have improved things in the 19th century, but it is not adapted to today’s society; there are more things to learn, ever more ways to learn, and many more pupils too.

You said that school was a way of keeping under control 15 million. There are surely less expensive and boring ways of keeping them busy?!

There are way too many pupils per class and each year it gets worse. We will end up with fifty kids in a single room with just one teacher unable to give individual help. Very 19th century in fact…

We should use new technologies! Pupils could learn at home, when they are ready to learn. In school, it is impossible to concentrate all day long in a classroom which is boring, overcrowded, smelly, too cold or too hot… With lessons via internet, they wouldn’t lose time going from home to school; there would be no more issues about being off sick or about missing a lesson, etc. Teachers would still be useful in helping pupils when they need help.

One day, school will be totally irrelevant. Learning will be so much more easy and fun…  Why wait?!

Emeric Desjeux is FOR

William said that the educational system in France hasn’t changed since Jules Ferry founded it. This is not true: in 1959 school became compulsory until the age of 16, since 1968 the uniform is no longer compulsory, and since 1970 most schools are coeducational. And there are frequent reforms of the system.

Nowadays, a student in high school only has on average thirty hours of class per week. A Science major can also study Philosophy. A Literature major can study Math or Physics. Knowledge is wide-ranging in the French system. Everyone can study Latin or Greek.

Knowledge is happiness and vice-versa, and most people find both at school!

Kiên Denier is AGAINST

Do you really think that school is fulfilling, that it is a place where you learn how to take your responsibilities and where you learn how to think for yourself, a place where you learn how to become an adult?

I consider school more like a place full of angst, a place full of stress. Did you know that stress can permanently damage brain cells and even damage the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for generating new memories and retrieving old ones? I don’t want to know the state of my brain cells after spending almost my whole life in the stressful institution that SCHOOL is!

Plus do you feel happy coming to school every morning? Because education is supposed to “unlock the golden door of freedom”, it should be a pleasure! It is not! When I arrive in front of the school; my first thought is to check if all my homework is done, so I will not get humiliated by the teachers in front of the whole class. Then I check if I have not forgotten to revise for exams. I spend my whole day stressing out…Just like you all.

And, when I get back home, after my nine hours at school, I am not in the mood to do my homework, because I’m tired!

Because, let’s be honest for a second, school is ruled by an education system which is based on humiliation. You don’t believe me? I’m quite sure that every single person in this room can remember a teacher humiliating a student! For example, when a teacher hands out the students’ papers from the best to the worst ones…Or the “innocent” comments a teacher makes to a “bad student” such as: “this is rubbish”, “look at your grades: if you have any dreams you can abandon them, you won’t succeed in reaching them” or more usually “you didn’t do your homework, I’m not surprised, you’ve never worked hard”.

Another example: streamed classes which are just so elitist, making the so-called “bad students” feel… bad. The value and potential of a human being should not be calculated according to his school grades! Humiliation is not fulfilment; it’s what fascism is based on.

As William said, the world is changing, times are changing, and school has to adapt to the new realities of our era. We are in the twenty first century! So let’s be pragmatic. Let’s create a system which takes into account reality. According to several scientific studies, a student is not able to focus before 9:30am, and can only learn efficiently for five hours a day. So what’s the point in starting a school day at 8 am, and finishing at 6:00pm?

How can we support a school system that is failing so many?! We are people, not machines, and all different from each other. We are not all able to focus for the same amount of time, or learn the same quantity of information, or learn in the same way. Our individuality should be respected. The school system annihilates the individual and his capacity to learn.

Seneca said, and I’m sure you’ll all agree: “We learn not in school, but in life”.

Romain Bullon is FOR

I would like to insist on the fact that school is where you learn to live with others which is very important for your future. As an adult, you don't live or work alone, you always need others. If you start educating yourself at home with computers and internet, you will become a sociopathic vegetable! School is not just a place where you learn things; school is where you learn about life.

When you work on a particularly subject you learn better when you are with others, you can compare your point of view with what others think. Furthermore the fact that you work with others stimulates your thoughts. A bit of healthy competition also increases motivation and results.

Learning at home will be more expensive; in France school is basically free and you can consult a wide choice of books at the school library.

At school you learn, but you can also eat, read, speak with your friends, and even snooze! You can also go on school trips which are a great learning experience. In fact, school is a good place to live your life!

The French school system is the 16th best in the world… In other words it is among the best!

Victor Monier is AGAINST

I listened carefully to what you've said Romain, and I don’t really agree with your idea of school being a good place to spend your life. Do you think school gets you ready for your real life, once you get out? Nonsense! It’s your parents who are supposed to educate you; school is just the place to get knowledge.

You think school is for making friends? Associations and sports club, cafés, etc. are the places to meet and talk and have a real social life!
School is not an efficient means to acquire knowledge; the proof is that more and more pupils have to follow expensive private courses.

Schools are not all free! Some people can afford a private (i.e. a good) school; does this make for a fairer society?

In the PISA classification of 2009, France is 22nd. It shows that in France, despite the greatest number of hours spent at school, foreign language learning is very poor and ability to speak and write in our own language correctly is far from satisfactory too.

School is still seen as the best or only way to get an education, but it is obviously not working... So, a big thank you to our teachers for their valiant efforts, but: down with school!

2 May 2013

You think that’s funny?!

Lucile: Welcome to our very serious conversation on laughter and humor! What is humor, and can we laugh about everything?

Alice: Why do people laugh?  Humor is the affirmation of ourselves, an awareness of our place in the world. It is the ability to see reality, at least the absurd aspects of it. Or maybe it is the nervous acceptance that we are unable to see or accept reality for what it is, our place in the vast universe? As Woody Allen said: “God is dead, Marx is dead, and I myself do not feel very well…” Laughter is also self-mockery.

Bénédicte: Laughter is not just a reaction to absurdity, it is also about communication. Through laughter, people share ideas and feelings with others, especially when they have the same sense of humor. Humorists provoke thought and discussion by making us laugh.

Marilou: Humor is also a means to be part of a group, of friends or at work. Someone with humor is usually well-liked; everybody likes to be with someone who makes them laugh. Humor is a means to feel happy, and we shouldn’t put limits on that. How can you forbid someone from being happy?!

Wesley: I agree that laughter is a factor of social integration, but it can also be used to exclude. Think of business people; they have to laugh at the boss’s lame jokes because he is the boss! Humor helps maintain the hierarchy in society. It is also an efficient management tool, useful in breaking the ice, in team building, in the all-important after-work parties, etc.

Alice: Humor can be nasty, used to mock someone's physical appearance, family situation, religion, or ethnic origin. There is a violent side to humor too…

Bénédicte: Yes, but there are legitimate targets for humor: the rich, the corrupt, the intolerant, the cruel, etc. To laugh is indeed to react, to react to injustice. You can make fun of other people if those other people do bad things.

Alice: Yes, but the danger is that humor becomes a weapon which destroys someone’s reputation… Think of DSK.

Bénédicte: I think DSK is a totally legitimate target for satire: a public figure who did something wrong!

Marilou: I personally think you can laugh at everyone and at everything. Nothing should be taboo when it comes to having a laugh. It’s almost a matter of survival, especially in the work place! I mean, if you couldn’t take the piss out of your colleagues or your boss (behind his back), you’d go nuts! According to a survey of 600 men, 73% said they worked better because humor was tolerated in the work place. Did you know that, according to researchers at Loma Linda University in California, laughter reduces stress by 38%? Our way of life today is very stressful, be it at school, at work, or at home, so laughter is a means to relax; it’s even, indeed, a means to stay relatively healthy in the brain and the body! People who laugh 10 to 25 times a day have fewer health problems than others according to a 2009 study published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences. When you laugh, your heart rate and blood pressure go down and you become calmer. This is why you feel a sense of relief after having a good laugh. Laughing at everything, at everyone, at someone, or at nothing in particular makes you live better and longer!

Wesley: There are different types of humor. The two main categories I would say are humor in private life and the one in public life. People have a more personal sense of humor in private life, as they know their entourage well, they may also laugh at the same things as the people they know well. In public life, people will be more universal so as to be understood by as many people as possible; it’s a means to be included more easily in the group.

Alice: Some people think it is rather dangerous to confuse public and private life… I feel it is different in countries like the UK or the USA, where there are more pubs, parties and so forth?

Wesley: I like political cartoons, don’t you? I think they’re clever, they put over a message quickly, usually because they make good use of satire; Le Canard enchainé for one uses cartoons to sometimes devastating affect!

Bénédicte: Yes, but it is sometimes difficult to share the joke, either because you disagree with the political message or because you just “don’t get it”… I sometimes feel a little censorship would not be such a bad thing!

Wesley: Understanding the joke rather depends on where you come from, what you know, how open-minded you are… If you try to stop people from mocking each other, it is like limiting their freedom of expression; after all, everyone has the right to say what he or she thinks on whatever issue! Sometimes, laughter is the only means of expression left, when action or ordinary words seem inefficient in changing a situation. Humor is a powerful political tool, which authorities sometimes try to censor…

Alice: You’re right; humor can hurt, especially as humor is by definition funny, therefore not supposed to be taken seriously, therefore not really dangerous! “It was only a joke!” is what cartoonists or humorists sometimes say to avoid prosecution.

Bénédicte: I think racist, anti-Semitic, or sexist jokes and cartoons are not funny. Suffering, humiliation, death, loneliness, etc., is no laughing matter either! Black humor just shows lack of respect for victims. Black humor is prevalent in societies that are losing the essential notion of respect for the individual…

Lucile: Yes, but everyone knows when something is meant to be funny, even if they do not find it amusing. There are obviously different degrees and types of humor, and everyone has their own sense of humor. Humor can provoke, create tension, express opposition and even loathing, but it can do the opposite too: for example, people who use jokes and laughter to defuse tension tend to have better marriages, according to psychologist John Gottman. Laughter is a good way of keeping the joie-de-vivre we had as children!

Bénédicte: Yes, laughter can be life-affirming! Illness is easier to stand if a patient finds a reason to laugh. It often takes the drama out of a situation too.

Alice: Sure, but it can be destructive too! The use of humor can sometimes be inappropriate and offensive: mocking people's physical appearance, religious beliefs, or ethnic origin can make a situation worse. Take the example of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Muhammad; what was the intention of the cartoonists, to shock Muslims? If that was the case, the cartoons could be seen as an incitement to racial or ethnic hatred, which the Law forbids!

Wesley: No, not at all! The idea was to provoke fundamentalists who want to stop anyone from expressing an opinion that they do not approve of! Charli Hebdo was defending freedom of speech! What someone finds funny depends on their social background, their socio-professional category, on how tolerant they are, on their ethnic origin, their tastes, their personal experience, and so on. Some people think black humor is fun; it is a way to laugh at things we take too seriously. It is in a way, paradoxically, a means of coping with tragic events or issues that are too horrible to really understand...

Lucile: Can you laugh at anything? No, not if the intention of the person who is making the joke is to stigmatize, to demean, to exclude… Desproges said we can laugh at everything but we have to be careful with whom we laugh, as they might not get the joke!