Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Learning to Laugh in the Face of Adversity

(The following article is reprinted from National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth online site.

Whether you’re a youth worker feeling overburdened or you’re working with a young person who's feeling angry, fearful, or depressed, adding humor into your day can benefit you both.

So says Allen Klein, author of The Healing Power of Humor and Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying, who often carries around a red clown nose in case the situation calls for it.

Laughing provides both psychological and physical benefits that help people better cope with any situation, Klein says. “Psychologically, noticing humor even in stressful situations allows people to gain more perspective and not feel so caught up in what’s happening in their lives. Physically, laughing gives all the systems a workout and relieves tension.”

And laughter is contagious, he says, so once a youth worker points out something funny, it can lighten the mood for everyone around them, including youth.

Developing a positive attitude and the skills to use humor productively may not happen overnight. Klein offered some tips and considerations for incorporating humor into youth work.

Laughing Matters

Klein developed an acronym based on the word “LAUGH” to help folks remember how to find humor every day.

L is for “let go” of whatever is angering or distressing you. Take a couple of deep breaths and recognize that you have the power to rise above whatever is bothering you. This enables you to become more aware of how you view a situation and to think about changing your attitude.

A is for “attitude.” We can’t control what happens to us, but we can respond to our experiences with a positive attitude. The way we respond is more important than the actual events, Klein explained.

U is for “you,” because only you can change your attitude or let go.

G is for “go do it,” or use what you find in the previous steps to give yourself a more positive and hopeful perspective, and

H is for “humor eyes and ears.” “Humor is all around us all the time, but we don’t always notice it,” Klein says. Look around and notice something you didn’t see before, like a bumper sticker, for example, that may make you laugh.

The Power of Humor

Klein urges youth workers to recognize that humor is a very powerful thing that can both help and hurt. “Develop a rapport with young people first, listen to see what they joke about, and be careful not to poke fun at sensitive topics,” he told us. But you don’t have to worry about staying current with the latest jokes to incorporate humor successfully. Instead,  “the most effective opportunities for humor are often right in front of our noses,” Klein says.

You can also ask yourself or have youth ask themselves, “What funny things have happened while I was homeless?” or “What funny things have happened in the shelter?”  Sometimes you don’t see it until you ask yourself to find something funny.

You can even suggest that youth try to find one funny thing each day, Klein suggests. “When people realize they can tell a joke about themselves and make others laugh, they see ‘If I can laugh about this, maybe it’s not so tragic.’”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Laughter and Tears

Years ago, I used to manage a retreat that focused on death and dying workshops. At one of these events, there were about 100 people. All of them had a close connection to loss. Some were hospice caregivers, some were families of terminally ill patients, some were patients near death and some had recently lost a loved one.
The retreat lasted ten days and most of it was held in silence. On the seventh day, the instructor informed me that he wanted to work with some people individually. Knowing my interest in humor and healing, he asked me to take the group over and do a session on that subject. Because of the gravity of the circumstances facing nearly everyone in the group, I was a bit apprehensive to discuss humor. But I did.
Before I tell you exactly how the group responded, you need to know that all meals were strictly vegetarian. Harold was the cook. It was obvious from his rotund size that he really enjoyed food. He had been the cook at the center for many years and was good at what he did. 
But this was the first time that Harold had to adhere to a strict vegetarian menu. Knowing that he had little experience with this kind of cooking, we tried to clue him in on how to prepare well-balanced healthy vegetarian meals. But he didn't get it. Many of his meals consisted solely of pasta, potatoes and rice. Vegetarian, yes. Healthy, no.
The evening I was to present my discussion of humor and healing, I decided that I would give the group a multiple-choice exam. The first question I asked them was, "My favorite meal on this retreat thus far was:
A -- Pasta and potatoes,
B -- Rice and pasta,
C -- Potatoes and rice.
My opening question brought down the house. The audience laughed loud and long. When the laughter died down, I asked the second multiple-choice question,, "Harold’s favorite food was:
A -- Rice
B -- Pasta
C -- Potatoes.
Again the audience went wild.
By the time I got to the third question, "Your favorite retreat cook is...", all I had to do was say "A" - without even revealing what the first choice was - and the audience went into hysterical laughter. It was the most boisterous and receptive audience I had ever had. Later on, I realized why.
I was providing a release for them. After many days in silence and intense soul-searching, the laughter provided much needed relief and a release of built up tension. I also realized that the laughter that night was as important as the tears they had been crying all week.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Why I Write Books

I just read an unsolicited review on Amazon of my first book, The Healing Power of Humor, that brought tears to my eyes. It was written by a woman who had been in prison. Below is an excerpt.

Helped Me Behind Prison Razor Wire

"Prison is a harsh, lonely landscape, designed to squash hope. There is very little laughter inside the wires. While I was in prison, I was desperately lonely and depressed. I was battling advanced breast cancer and my young roommate had died from undiagnosed leukemia. When I received Allen Klein's book, I felt as if someone had thrown me a lifeline of hope. I underlined and starred and laughed. I read it over and over. This is not a dated joke book. For someone hurting, it is priceless. Wherever you are, inside prison walls or outside in the free world, grief and loss are agony and this little book will serve you well."
"In Arizona, inmates are only allowed to keep 10 books and 5 magazines so you can imagine a book has to be very special to hold on to it.... Through it all, I've held on to Allen's book. It still gives me pleasure and inspires me. Thanks, Allen. I wish there were copies in every prison in America."

The book was written over 20 years ago and it is still making a difference. I'm touched, honored, and grateful.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

AIDS Ain't Funny, or Is It?

         It simply makes sense to try to mobilize whatever immune-enhancing effects might flow from marshaling the mind.  After all, even if your T-cells don't increase, how can having a cheerful, frisky, life-affirming attitude possibly hurt?....  I highly recommend daily doses of laughter.
—Michael Callen,
author of Surviving AIDS

         While many AIDS patients, and those who are HIV-positive, suffer the anguish of dealing with life-challenging issues, others find this to be grist for the humor mill.  Things that cause problems in the first place suddenly become laughing matter.  What follows are examples of how some people used humor to triumph over tragedy.
         From Howard Shapiro's “Kvetch Kronicles” (in The Body Positive newsletter):
"Meals on wheels delivered four frozen chicken dinners to my apartment and had the nerve to try and take them back a half an hour later after they realized they had the wrong sick person.  The embarrassing thing is that I had already sold the meals to some old ladies in the laundry room at $10.00 a pop.

"Broadway star and professional coffee drinker Carol Lawrence personally called me and applauded my comic talents and dubbed me—“an AIDS humorist.”  I told her living with AIDS couldn’t be as bad as living with Robert Goulet!"

         From Paul Serchia's “Thinking Positive” column (in Positive Living newsletter) comes a list of humorous things people who don’t have AIDS might say to those who do:
                  “Let’s take your car.  You have the handicapped permit.”
                  “You look different somehow.  Is that lesion new?”
                  “I brought Schindler’s List, Philadelphia  and Longtime Companion. I thought watching movies would cheer you up.”

         A common technique comedians use to get a laugh is exaggeration.  Take any situation, exaggerate it until it becomes absurd, and you too will probably see some humor in it.  The example below, found on an HIV/AIDS chat-line, shows how one person effectively used this technique:
                  When other people go shopping, they gossip about PTA information and compare the latest baseball scores.  When us hometown’ gays” go to the supermarket and meet in the aisles or the parking lot, we gossip about symptoms/meds information and compare the latest CD4 scores.
                           Antigens and antipasto.  Chicken and liver function. Melons and melanomas.  Bactrim and NutriSlim.  Videx and Windex.  TB and TV Guide.  Tetracycline and Mr. Clean.   Shingles and Pringles. 
          Someone suggested switching to another supermarket, where you can pick up your meds and groceries in one stop.  I can just see someone at the checkout counter:   “Meow Mix$1.45, AZT—$145, cranberry juice—$1.37, Videx—$137.  Total due—$461.78.  Have a nice day!”

         And finally, one person told me about an incident that happened to a good friend of hers.  After his lover died of AIDS, he got a renewal notice in the mail for a magazine to which his partner had subscribed.  On the outside in big red letters it read, “You're About to Expire.”  He sent it back with his own message on the front: “You're Too Late!”