By Ron Culbertson. With a master’s degree in social work, Ron Culberson spent the first part of his career working in a large hospice organization as a clinical social worker, middle manager, and senior leader. As a speaker, humorist, and author of "Do it Well. Make it Fun.The Key to Success in Life, Death, and Almost Everything in Between", he has delivered more than 1,000 presentations to associations, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations. His mission is to change the workplace culture so that organizations are more productive and staff are more content. He was also the 2012-2013 president of the National Speakers Association and is a recognized expert on the benefits of humor and laughter.
When we’re faced with a challenge, it’s not often easy to find humor in the situation. But humor can be just what we need to balance the situation and boost our morale. I love it when I’m able to find something funny in the midst of a stressful situation. I’m not always good at it, but when I am, it’s Nirvana.
For instance, a few years ago, while going through airport security, I was trying to remove my watch. I had recently changed the band and was having trouble unhooking it. As I attempted to take it off, the watch slipped out of my hand. I grabbed for it and accidentally smacked it twenty feet across the floor. Nervously, I turned to the TSA agent and said, “Time flies, doesn’t it?”
He laughed. I retrieved my watch. And I made my flight without incident.
Dropping your watch is not a huge problem. I understand that. But when we can find humor during life’s more challenging experiences, the situations feel a bit less challenging. So, I thought I’d share some of my favorite examples from family, friends, and colleagues who used humor to cope with their particular predicaments.
Recently, I spoke for the US District Court clerks in western North Carolina. The Clerk of the Court, Frank Johns, shared that he was diagnosed with an unusual type of intestinal cancer in 1999. His daily treatments consisted of two chemotherapy injections administered in each side of his, well, back side. Luckily, Frank is married to a nurse so she could administer the injections.
On some days, Frank noticed that the injections didn’t hurt at all while on other days, they hurt a lot. So one day, when he didn’t feel any discomfort from the shots, he asked his wife to mark the spots on each cheek with a Sharpie. A couple of days later, he went to a tattoo parlor and had two permanent bullseyes placed where the spots were. Oh, and by the way, Frank is an avid gun enthusiast so the bullseyes were appropriate on a many levels.
In Frank’s case, humor definitely hit the spot! And it made a challenging situation better. Today, Frank’s cancer is in remission.
Early in my career, I spoke at a local support group for people living with serious illnesses. I asked the participants how they used humor to cope with their health challenges. One man said that when he went to see his doctor for a checkup, he placed a Beanie Baby crab under his hospital gown. When the doctor lifted the gown to examine him, he said, “Sorry, I’ve got crabs.”
The doctor burst out laughing.
When you’re dealing with a serious illness, edgy humor can be one of the greatest reliefs for the tension. It’s like fighting fire with fire. In this case the patent’s reference to an STD led to ROTFL.
A colleague was telling me that when her father died, she went to the funeral home to purchase an urn for his ashes. However, she felt that the urns on display were too serious and that they didn’t fit her father’s fun personality. She felt that they were just too “urn-est.” Haha.
So, she solved the problem by burying her father’s ashes in a beer growler!
He had always loved beer, and she felt this represented his life much better than a more somber container. I guess you could say one bad urn deserved another (sorry).
My friend Theo Androus’s dad was quite a gregarious guy. Once, Theo told him that his haircut looked awful. His dad said, “Son, the only difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut is two weeks.”
As Theo’s dad got older, he began to have physical problems due to diabetes. On one evaluation visit, his doctor told him that he would probably need to have his leg amputated at some point in the near future.
Theo’s dad asked, “When you cut off my leg, can I have it back?”
The doctor responded, “Why?”
His dad said, “Because I want to bury it under a tombstone that says, ‘The rest is yet to come.’”
Theo’s dad was the epitome of using sharp wit to battle serious life challenges. He was definitely a cut above the rest.
My friend Michael Aronin was born with cerebral palsy. All his life, he has dealt with people who are uncomfortable with his speech and his unsteady gait. But, as a comedian, he has always responded to this discomfort with humor.
Once, when Michael was nine, he was in a department store with his mother. He tripped and fell. A sales person came over to help his mother pick him up. As they were lifting him to his feet, he said, “I shouldn’t have had that second beer.”
Michael has a brilliant way of straightening out the uneven road in his life.
A couple of weeks before my father died, and when it seemed pretty clear that he would not get better, a few friends and family came to visit him in the hospital. My dad was a private person who didn’t like to talk about himself or the seriousness of his situation.
One day, our pastor and my dad’s friend Neel were in the room. The pastor asked, “Is there anything you want to tell anyone?”
In his typical witty way, my father said, “Well, Neel owes me five dollars.”
We all laughed and my dad successfully avoided one more serious conversation.
Sometimes it may feel like nothing is funny. Other times, humor is the only way we can get through the day.
A touch of humor can be just the balance we need so that we don’t get knocked off our feet by life’s challenges.
So, laugh a little. It’s good for what ails you.
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