May 19 – Humor as a relief valve

“A sense of humor snuffs out our sparks of friction before they get to our fuel tank.” (Fred Smith)

My sense of humor is something about which my wife and I talk from time to time. Hers and mine are different. There are things I find funny which she does not, and vice versa. As our children have grown into adults, they have developed their own senses of humor as well. Sometimes they are quite aligned to mine, and we laugh together at TV shows, movies and internet humor. Other times they are closer to their mother’s. One thing my wife and I agree on, though, is that my humor can be quite disarming at times.

I have been blessed with a quick wit. The truth is that I can find something at least mildly amusing in most daily circumstances. Obviously, there are some very serious things that do not evoke humor, but they are rarer than one might think. When I find myself in a situation where, as this quote suggests, the sparks are getting close to the gas tank, I normally can evoke a quick chuckle to defuse the situation.

My quick wit also translates well to work, and also frequently has the effect of disarming someone, and defusing a situation. There is a bi-monthly meeting that I host for my project. There are about 50 participants that are all around the world. The purpose is to give status, and to seek help from one another or senior management. Over the last 4+ years, there have been times when that meeting becomes quite tense. There will be a sensitive subject being discussed, with contentious points of view. Usually those topics are not the only thing on the agenda, and when their time has passed, we need to move on. It is then that I have been quick enough, and fortunate enough to find a short sentence that will ease the tension in the room, and on the conference call. I usually choose something that is fairly self-deprecating, and never make fun of another individual. Or I will find something external to the discussion that might be process oriented. Many have been the times that we have had a good laugh after a hard issue, and then moved on to the next item.

At home it can work the same way. There have been times when we, as a family, have been discussing very thorny issues that come packed with emotions. The tension can build very quickly as we make our way through. And frequently it has been a quick, humorous sentence that has broken that ice. I have even noticed in recent years that my children are the ones who increasingly find the funny sentence to break the ice. Sometimes I think we all actually compete a little to be the one who can be the catalyst to move the family forward.

I am a firm believer that good natured humor has enormous benefits to cure the body, mind and soul. I know this isn’t a ground breaking notion, and has been discussed time and again in popular culture and by doctors the world over. The notion that “laughter is the best medicine”, has been in my consciousness my whole life. I can honestly say that some of the heartiest laughter I have ever experienced has been in the basements of funeral homes. There is something about the intensity of emotions that can switch quickly from grief to laughter. In those cases the laughter wasn’t the cure for anything, but it did help give relief to the situation, as well as a dose of perspective.

I am certainly not advocating being a class clown in difficult situations. I am quite sure if I did that I would soon be seen as a disrespectful buffoon. I do agree, though, that the right bit of humor can most definitely keep the sparks away from the gas tank, and allow people to just relax. And wouldn’t we all be better off if we could just relax a little more?

This entry was posted in Personal Reflections, Reflection 365 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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