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APSU faculty publish back-to-back articles on heroes and laughter

October 29, 2002

Heroes and laughter have played major parts in the nation's healing in the year following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Those topics are the focus of articles published last month by two Austin Peay professors, who also are husband and wife.

“The Ontological Significance of Laughter for Persons: A Phenomenological Exploration” by Dr. Albert Randall, professor of philosophy, and “Defining Hero, Defining Person: The Living Legend of Arthur,” by Dr. Jeanie Randall, associate professor of developmental studies, are back-to-back chapters in The Edwin Mellen Press book titled “Philosophical and Religious Conceptions of the Person and Their Implications for Ethical, Political and Social Thought.” The book is a compilation of papers originally presented at the International Conference on Personhood held at Oxford University, England, in August 1995.

Albert Randall's article discusses types of laughter and their importance in different life experiences.

“Laughter is a fundamental part of our development,” he said. “In allowing us to express how we feel, it helps us learn about ourselves and grow as persons, and learn about each other and grow in our relationships.”

According to Randall, laughter serves several purposes: to teach, express the joy of living, strengthen friendships and learn the humility of laughing at one's foolishness.

“When things overwhelm us, laughter is often a healthy way of overcoming anger and bitterness,” said Randall.

“It helps us put aside past hurts and look forward rather than backward.”

The article touches on unhealthy laughter as well. Ethnic jokes encourage bigotry, and cynical laughter is little more than disguised despair, according to Randall.

“Laughter, in every form, is essential to our human existence. It touches us with the bad and good,” he said.

“But at its best, it reminds us of times of overwhelming joy and shows us we always can reach a stage of hope and happiness again.”

Jeanie Randall's article uses Arthurian legend to trace the elements of heroism.

In it, she maintains that heroes are like the famed Knights of the Round Table, characters who live by a set of virtues, or vows.

During an emergency, these vows — unbeknown to the hero — spark a natural reaction to help and, on a larger scale, to fulfill a personal moral obligation to self and others.

According to Randall, heroes don't always realize they are being driven by their vows.

“So often you will hear people who have undergone a tragic circumstance say, ‘I'm not a hero; I was just doing what needed to be done,'” she said.

“But that instinct came from somewhere. It came from a conscious choice by people who have said ‘I am going to live my life this way.'

“It creates a personality for heroes, people who are committed to their vows to the extent they are fueled by them in the midst of hardship.”

This is not the first joint collaboration by the couple. In 1996, the Randalls wrote a paper titled “Jane Austen and the Virtue Ethics,” which defined ethics using Austen's literary characters. They presented the paper that year at a regional meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America in St. Louis and, later, taught a course by the same name at Austin Peay. In 1998, the paper was presented again at the International Conference on Personhood in Prague.