Thursday, December 8, 2011

One of the best things to have up your sleeve . . .

By Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
You can hear our table at almost any function we attend as a group.  It is the loudest because of the laughter and joy being shared.  There were eight of us at the table in a Chinese buffet, and each time there was an outburst of laughter, I looked around to notice that we caught the eye of almost everyone else in the restaurant.  After awhile it became accepted and understood: we were having a great deal of fun.
Now, we didn’t purposefully raise our four children to have a sense of humor, but if we had tried, we couldn’t have done better than we did.  All are grown now with their own families, and all share our sense of humor.  It isn’t that we were laughing all the time, it’s just that when things are funny we laugh.  It’s just that there are so many opportunities to make a humorous aside, to add a needed punch line, or to see the humor in natural, ordinary, everyday events.
When our family gets together, we laugh.
All during the time our children were young, one thing we all knew is that we would be having dinner together.  We would discuss the day’s events, what was going on in our children’s lives, current events, as well as questions and concerns.  But, always, we would laugh and have fun.  I remember a number of times when our children would bring friends for dinner, they would remark about how much fun they had at our mealtimes.
My wife and I never used humor for a specific purpose, although we were well aware that by using it, it served a number of purposes.  For example, we used it as a way to connect with our kids.  Often, when our kids were depressed, feeling angry or upset, humor helped them replace their distressing emotions.  Another thing we discovered is that when one of our children didn’t want to talk about what happened during their day, or they were simply not wanting to talk about anything, humor would change their behavior.  We would begin slowly, and as soon as the rest of us (we have a family of six) were chatting, kidding, and laughing, we would find everyone getting involved, talking more and making more eye contact.
Dinnertime at our house often preceded evenings of doing school assignments and projects as well as homework.  Seldom did an evening consist of watching television.  Our dinnertime conversations increased our energy.  I found on a regular basis, when I had class work, writing, or lecture preparation planned for an evening, inevitably our conversations and interactions over dinner refreshed and invigorated me.  It was as if I could begin my evening activities as if I was starting out in the morning.  (I am a morning person for the most part.)
There are some important “teaching moments” where humor can serve as a catalyst.  Many of these were specifically designed to help our kids lighten up.  For example, we tried to help them not take themselves too seriously.  Of course, this is more important as the kids get older — after they become aware that the world does not revolve around them.   Our kids were given a certain amount of freedom in how they dressed, what they chose to play with, and how they talked.  There were obvious parameters or general guidelines, but seldom did we ever find ourselves having to define these or remind our kids of them.  For example, school dress codes had to be observed, when an item was forbidden in school, they could not disobey the rule, and swearing and cussing were never allowed.  Most of these items, however, were clarified by the examples my wife and I set for them, so there was seldom, if ever, questions.
Openness is an important characteristic to establish in family conversations.  Our kids were encouraged to share their experiences, even their embarrassing moments.  Sometimes, it simply requires putting things into perspective.  For example, when a child is punished for doing something wrong at school, there is no doubt that school authority must never be undermined in any way; however, “doing something wrong” can be placed into the experience of learning, getting an education, "the school of hard knocks,” or simply “how the lessons of life must sometimes be learned.”
My wife and I were never troublemakers and, fortunately, never were our kids.  But, the testing that goes on while we are in school, pushing the frontiers of acceptability, and trying to get away with something all are methods of learning, and when it comes to the “lessons of life,” they are useful, important, and memorable.  I remember the first time I ever skipped school, faked a “sick” note from home, cheated on a test, or used another student’s ideas as my own.  No, these are not proud moments; however, they are lessons, and the questions parents can ask their children if any situations like these occur are: “How did it make you feel?”  “What did you learn from this experience?” “If you were to face the same situation again, would you do the same thing?”  “Can you understand why this is improper behavior?”  “If you were a parent or teacher, and you discovered one of your children or students had done this, what would you do?”  (If punishment took place. . . ): “Do you think the punishment you received was correct?”  “What would you have done?”
What my wife and I discovered is — after a history of dinner table conversations — family members could begin to laugh at themselves.  Children often take themselves too seriously, and it helps them to hear similar experiences shared by parents --- and parents, too, who are willing to admit their own errors and weaknesses.  Often, we could take our children’s lead.  That is, we were the ones learning from them.  We often found them the experts on playing, taking life lightly, and laughing.  It was a great experience when they would bring jokes they heard from friends, in school, or in their reading to the dinner table.  It not only gave them the spotlight, but it provided them, too, a sense of control, a chance to test their own perceptions about what’s funny and what isn’t, and a way to deliver information and ideas in a secure situation that was important to them.
When problems were discussed in an open manner, within the context of enjoyment and sharing, our children soon learned about situations that were worth getting upset over, what was important and what was not, that most situations were reparable (they are not life or death), and, too, they learned how to own their problems.
When I gave a speech some years ago I used the phrase, “One of the best things people can have up their sleeves is a funny bone.”  That phrase from my speech was discovered and used in an issue of Reader’s Digest and still later, as a result of publication in the Digest it was picked up by Garborg’s (Bloomington, MN) and published in their perpetual calendar, “Cherished Thoughts,” where it appears with my name attached, on April 24th.  Having a funny bone up your sleeve is something that can be taught, and if parents were smart, it can be begun early and carried through a lifetime.  What a terrific gift for children --- implant a funny bone!
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At there is a wonderfully helpful, thorough, and well-written essay, “Laughter is the Best Medicine: The Health Benefits of Humor and Laughter.”  Our children were lucky to grow up in a house where they were surrounded with laughter.  There was an appropriate quotation that applies in this essay: “Even if you did not grow up in a household where laughter was a common sound, you can learn to laugh at any stage of life.”

The essay “Creating a Close Family,” at Internet of the Mina includes a wonderful section, “Participation and Cooperation,” which discusses the following qualities: commitment,
connectedness, acceptance , appreciation, trust and safety, truthfulness, flexible rules,
response-ability, and healthy boundaries.  There is much more in this essay, but this is the information that directly relates to my essay.
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Copyright December, 2011, by And Then Some Publishing, L.L.C.


  1. Humor is truly a wonderful way to neutralize difficult people and difficult situations. It is hard to be upset or bitter when you are laughing!

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