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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™


Mar 2009, No. I

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!


Table of Contents

Section I

Shrink Rap I:  The Science and Art of Motivational Humor:  Definition and Functions
Shrink Rap II:  "Stress Doc's ™ Tips for Becoming a Healing Humorist."
Testimonials:  15th Sustainment Brigade, Ft. Hood, TX
Readers:  A Jewish Perspective
----------------------

Section II

Main Essay:  "Humor and the Work Team -- Healing, Harmonizing, and
Harnessing Morale and Productivity:  Four Case Examples."

Offerings: 
Books, CDs, Training/Marketing Kit:  Email stressdoc@aol.com
or go to www.stressdoc.com for more info.


Overview:

1) Shrink Rap I "
The Science and Art of Motivational Humor:  Definition and Functions."  The Stress Doc defines and sheds light on higher purpose, motivational humor as a creative, stress-reducing tool for these highly charged times.  And to use a tool effectively and creatively, it helps to know both its form and functions.

2) Shrink Rap II"
Stress Doc's ™ Tips for Becoming a Healing Humorist."  Reflecting on his evolving role as a humorist, "The Stress Doc" first captures the essence of healing humor.  Next he identifies a variety of skills and strategies that can enable you to inject harmonizing and healing humor into a variety of social/professional transactions.

3) Main Essay:  "Humor and the Work Team -- Healing, Harmonizing, and
Harnessing Morale and Productivity:  Four Case Examples."  The Stress Doc provides case vignettes to illustrate humor's potential for enhancing the task and supportive capacities of a work team while helping the organization as a whole practice in-house "R & R" -- recreation and rejuvenation.


Shrink Rap I:

The Stress Doc defines and sheds light on higher purpose, motivational humor as a creative, stress-reducing tool for these highly charged times.  And to use a tool effectively and creatively, it helps to know both its form and functions.

The Science and Art of Motivational Humor:
Definition and Functions


In crisis-driven, 24/7, relentlessly upgrading and unpredictably downsizing (or reorganizing) world, it's no surprise that individuals, teams, divisions, and even entire companies can become "stress carriers" or high stress environments.  A critical challenge for the organization is helping personnel, and especially the foundational task and support system -- the work team -- maintain both productivity and morale in these "do more with less" times.  How can the HR professional along with all levels of management as well as formal and informal leaders help:  (a) fight the "burnout blues," (b) prevent a "lean-and-MEAN" attitude from becoming the department or company mantra, and (c) disarm an "us against them" environment that invariably breeds hostile competition or in-house territoriality?

Tough issues for sure…still, have no fear (well, maybe a little) the "Stress Doc" is here to champion an underutilized conflict-resolving and performance-enhancing intervention tool.  So what is this magical and methodical instrument for preventing your company's "esprit de corps" from turning into an "esprit de corpse?"  It's deceptively simple:  HUMOR!

Humor Clarified and Defined

However, this humor, what I call "motivational humor," is a lot more than just a good joke starting off a team or staff meeting.  It's not having a humor day, where management puts on clown noses or wigs.  Nor is it firing loud sounding toy guns to act out "playfully" disagreement or to distract momentarily during a tense problem-solving meeting.  While all these actions may temporarily lighten a work atmosphere, I'm interested in more imaginative and involving interventions that truly arise from live issues and conflicts, while they are occurring.  And this instrumental humor should have both short run and, potentially, ongoing impact.  Motivational humor is:
(1) healing -- releases frustration and opens up communication channels within and among work teams
(2) harmonizing -- busts or gently blows away those trust barriers between "superiors" and "subordinates"
(3) harnessing -- generates energy, creativity, and coordination or team synergy both short run and ongoing.

To better understand this action concept, let us capture its semantic foundation.  According to The Random House Dictionary, "humor (is) the recognition and expression of the incongruities and peculiarities in a situation or conduct."  A capacity for humor, especially positive motivational humor, often reveals an ability to appreciate and play with life's absurdities; to poke good-natured (and sometimes a bit more pointed) fun at others and, especially, to laugh at our own flaws and foibles.  In fact, for the pioneer of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, humor is the highest psychological defense mechanism.  Such mature humor and the capacity for self-effacing laughter, reflects the encouragement of our efforts and a patient tolerance of our "so-called" failures.

Eight Functions of Humor

Humor also has many essential bio-psychosocial functions, eight of which I've captured in an acronym.  Humor is good for what AILS you:

A = Arousal and Affiliation.

Arousal. 
Hearty laughter provides dopamine-like stimulation when bored and endorphin-induced relaxation when tense.  I believe humor expert, Dr. David Fry, noted that laughing with gusto is like turning your body into a big vibrator, giving vital organs a brief but vibrant internal massage.

Affiliation.  One manifestation of "emotional intelligence" is a capacity for a humor that both heals and harmonizes, that reminds us of our common humanity.  As the early 20th century disabilities pioneer and universally-acclaimed humanitarian, Helen Keller, observed:  "The world is so full of care and sorrow it is a gracious debt we owe one another to discover the bright crystals of delight hidden in somber circumstances and irksome tasks."  On a more pedestrian level, healing humor not only reflects an ability to walk in another's shoes, but especially to feel the other's bunions!"

I = Incongruity and Imagination.

Incongruity. 
As mentioned, humor allows us to go beyond rigid "black or white" and "all or none" thinking; it enables us to generate imaginative and even paradoxical possibilities (such as my self-described professional label of "Psychohumorist" ™).  As the quintessential American humorist and satirist, Mark Twain, ingenuously noted, "Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation."  Humor that plays with the inconsistent, unexpected, and contradictory helps us think and laugh "out of the box."

Imagination.  Let's keep pushing the humor envelope:  research has even linked humor to innovative problem-solving.  One study revealed that people who had just watched a short comedy film of television "bloopers" were better able to find a creative solution to a puzzling problem than were people who had watched a film about math (zzzzz!) or people who had exercised.  Humor seems to stimulate the right side of our brain allowing us to think more broadly, to forge exaggerated and surprising possibilities, and to see complex and otherwise elusive relationships.

L = Liberation and Letting Go.

Liberation. 
Humor often facilitates the discussion of a variety of subjects that may be taboo or off limits, for example, sex, religion, or politics.  Speaking the unspeakable is now possible.  Consider this example of both liberation and its limits.  Living in free-spirited New Orleans in the '80s, I would close my stress programs with, "Laughter is the best tension reliever and sex is second…So if you're having funny sex you probably are in good shape."  Now in the "Big Easy," that always got a hearty laugh.  When I moved to more politically correct, Washington, DC, in 1990 and attempted my "tried and (slightly) blue" closing, the reaction was mixed; a lot more nervous laughter or no laughter at all.

Soon I shifted my closing content, reciting the "Serenity Prayer":  "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know…where to hide the bodies."  This witticism definitely resonated with people daily fighting the bureaucratic beast.  (Obviously, while you might take the boy out of New Orleans, you can't take the sassy, N'Awlins style out of the boy.)


Letting Go.  Humor can help transform the serious into the silly, which may facilitate self-acceptance.  A classic example is 20th century man of letters, Anatole France's, pithy observation staring at his reflection upon turning seventy-five:  "Mirrors just aren't what they used to be."  He is demonstrating the courage both to "let go" of the past and to accept a more vulnerable image of self -- with warts and wrinkles, flaws and foibles.  However, Monsieur France's liberation, while personal, is not so singular.  In general, people are more open to a serious message when it's gift-wrapped with humor.

S = Superiority and Solidarity.

Superiority. 
Humor is a potent vehicle for bringing down to earth inflated egos and arrogant individuals.  (Think of Will Rogers, George Carlin or political cartoons.)  Humor and the ensuing laughter may also provide the productive release of frustration and anger.  However, I must raise a cautionary red flag:  depending on a person's motives, humor can have a decidedly hostile edge.  Too often an individual or group uses humor as a weapon of attack or to elevate one's own self-esteem or status at the expense of another party.

Self-Effacing Solidarity.  Still, there's real potential for healing when you can use self-effacing humor to invert the superiority function.  A motivational humorist may poke fun at his or her own vulnerabilities or imperfections (or to vividly illustrate having been down and out) to help affirm another's sense of self or to aid recovery from setback while reducing polarizing status distinctions.  In addition, laughing at oneself is a protective vest for blunting hostile slings and arrows.  Remember, an ability to laugh at your own flaws and foibles means beating those biased, judgmental, "know it all" critics to the punch line:  "Believe me; I can poke fun of myself a lot better than you ever can!"  And these antagonists have lost their favorite target – an oversensitive ego.

 

Here's a personal example.  In my stress seminars, when hair loss is mentioned as a sign of stress my immediate response, using an exaggerated tone, is, "I resemble that remark."  This is followed by:  "You all should have more respect for my (vanishing) hair.  It was recently listed in the World Wildlife Federation's ‘endangered species’ list.”


Finally, I believe there is no better way of inducing a sense of "solidarity" than when fellow sufferers can laugh together and through mutual openness realize a common fate - the journey along the evolutionary path of becoming "learners not losers."

 

In closing, perhaps the pioneering film genius, Charlie Chaplin, succinctly captured the basic and broad purpose of humor:

     A paradoxical thing is that in making comedy, the tragic is precisely that which
     arouses the funny…we have to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of
     natural forces and (in order) not to go crazy.

Hopefully, you can discover and design your own Motivational Humor Path and can help yourself and others…Practice Safe Stress!
 


Shrink Rap II:

Reflecting on his evolving role as a humorist, "The Stress Doc" first captures the essence of healing humor.  Next he identifies a variety of skills and strategies that can enable you to inject harmonizing and healing humor into a variety of social/professional transactions.

Stress Doc's ™ Tips for Becoming a Healing Humorist

During a recent professional networking dinner, two familiar questions surfaced.  A colleague who had attended my conference workshop wanted to know, "How did you develop an ability to use humor in your presentations?"  And, "Were you always a comic or class clown?"  An occasional public presenter herself, the implicit message was clear:  "How can I use humor more effectively; can I learn to be funnier?"

Reasonable questions:  while there is a funny bone, I don't believe there is a funny gene.  (And as a youngster I lacked the needed confidence and brashness to be class clown.)  While we may not replicate the manic antics of Robin Williams, the outrageous portraits of Richard Pryor or capture the delightful absurdity of former Saturday Night Live star, Gilda Radner, because of the powerfully poignant nature of our work, social workers and other allied health (as well as empathic souls) professionals are poised to be healing humorists.  As the pioneering comedic film genius, Charlie Chaplin, observed:  A paradoxical thing is that in making comedy, the tragic is precisely that which arouses the funny…we have to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of natural forces and (in order) not to go crazy.

And one of the world's great humanitarians, the undaunted perceptual trail blazer, Helen Keller, beautifully captured, if you will, a healing humor mission statement:

The world is so full of care and sorrow that it is a gracious debt we owe to one another to discover the bright crystals of delight in somber circumstances and irksome tasks.

So how can individual professionals as well as their organizations embark on a healing humor quest?  For transforming darkness and heaviness into lightness or enlightenment, consider these "Four Key Healing Humor Skills and Strategies":

1.  Distinguish Humor and Wit.
a) Humor recognizes the absurdities in personal, everyday situations and playfully embraces our fears and foibles.  It often has a silly, non-verbal component exaggerating voice tones, facial gestures and body movements.  I liken it to letting the air out of a blown up balloon, and watching it crazily circle, sputter and plop.

Try this:  To impart healing humor share a story with a friend or client that involves embracing and gently laughing at your own flaws and foibles.  Of course, the motive should not be gaining acceptance or sympathy from the other party.  When self-effacing humor comes from a place of integrity, you will simply seem less perfect and more accessible in your audience's eyes.  Not only are you speaking the language, but also you're walking your friend or client's talk.  And you are being a model for greater self-acceptance.  (See my rapping experience below.)

b) Wit quickly and imaginatively expresses the connection between things improbable or contradictory.  As previously noted, America's original humorist, Mark Twain, said it best:  "Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation."  Wit is highly verbal with a sudden, sharp edge (which, alas, can easily go over the healing edge into hostility or ridicule.).  According to Shakespeare, "Brevity is the soul of wit."   Think of wit as sticking a pin into that inflated balloon (or a puffed up ego).  An example of concise wit, perhaps, is my self-invented title of "Psychohumorist" ™.  (Of course, I let folks decide where to place the emphasis on this word.)

Here's a concise listing of traits distinguishing humor from wit:

             Humor                                                                 Wit
Saying funny things                                          Saying things in a funny way
What is being observed                                    What is being mentally constructed
Strong nonverbal component                              Highly verbal
Slow, physical exaggeration, silly                  Quick, sharp, surprising analogies
Letting air out of balloon (sputtering)                  Sticking pin into balloon (deflating)
Extreme:  ridiculous                                          Extreme:  ridicule

Finally, an ability to integrate humor and wit may just help civilize the world (see 2a below).

2.  Learn to Reframe.  A key humor technique is the ability to look at life events the same as everyone else and see something different.  For example, the early 20th c. French novelist, Anatole France, examining himself in a mirror, upon turning 75, observed:  "Mirrors just aren't what they used to be."  (And if you can gently poke fun at yourself you've enhanced the "higher power of humor" effect.)  Consider these two reframing examples -- one is interpersonal, the other organizational:

a) Interpersonal.  As a mid-'90s Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant at a large US Postal Service Processing & Distribution Plant walking the workfloor was commonplace. (Believe me, humor was not a luxury.)  One day, I came upon a couple bantering, seemingly playfully, if not a bit seductively.  A collegial chorus was also present.  The banter turned a bit provocative and the woman suddenly mouthed the "f u" expletive while throwing her antagonist the proverbial finger.  The onlookers quickly warned the couple about me: "Be careful, this guy is the 'Company Shrink.'"  Then the guy egged me on:  "Now what do you think about what she just did?"  With tension building, I nervously paused, then rallied:  "What do I think?  I just think she thinks you're # 1," and walked off with collective laughter behind me.  (A vital humor skill:  learn to playfully nip the hand or hands that feed you!)

b) Organizational.  Years back a Federal court was automating its record keeping system and was getting resistance from a number of employees.  This was especially true for those most affected by the change in a key form.  Not surprisingly, employees had not been consulted about the change.  Instead of only focusing on employee resistance to change, I challenged management to examine their one-sided decision-making process.  I also thought employees were grieving, that is, experiencing feelings of loss, both of a familiar mode of operation as well as the loss of job control and sense of professional autonomy.  After discussing the managerial missteps, I shared a "pass in the impasse aha!" with court leadership:  "Let's have a 'forms funeral.'"  All employees would have a chance to bemoan the loss of the old, express concerns about new procedures and, most important, criticize authority for not initially seeking group input.  Not surprisingly, this novel, perhaps somewhat absurd, communal catharsis broke through the barriers both to accepting change and to participatory decision-making.  We also began healing some organizational wounds.

3.  Be Aware of Context, Play with Content.  Sensitivity to your audience is vital, especially if wading into provocative areas, like sex or religion.  For example, when I moved from, "devil may care" N'Awlins to Washington, DC, I had to rethink carrying over a stress workshop closing punchline:  "They say laughter is the best tension reliever and sex is second…So if you're having funny sex you're probably in good shape!"  Politically correct audience discomfort eventually led to a different close.  I now stress the importance of "The Serenity Prayer":  "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know where to hide the bodies!"  (Okay, so you can take the boy out of "The Big Easy" but not the irreverence from the boy.)

4.  Be Vivid and Visual, Surprising and Self-Effacing.  In my "Practice Safe Stress" workshop (a clever witticism, in my humble opinion) after presenting "The Four Stages of Burnout," there's a decided heaviness in the room.  To uplift the group mood, I unexpectedly put on a Blues Brothers hat, black sunglasses and pull out a black tambourine.  I then announce that I'm pioneering the field of psychologically humorous rap music, calling it, of course…"Shrink Rap" ™ Productions.  Once the groans subside, I counter:  "We'll see who has the last groan," and suddenly belt out, while prancing about the room:

When it comes to feelings do you stuff them inside
Is tough John Wayne your emotional guide?
And it's not just men so proud and tight-lipped
For every Rambo there seems to be a Rambette.

There's more, but I'll spare you.  The crowd goes from bewildered to bowled over.  After the laughter and applause dies down, I revert to self-effacing form:  "That's okay; I've been doing this long enough.  I can tell when an audience is applauding out of relief."  I also reassure them it only takes two hours for the effects of my rapping to wear off.  Clearly, being joyfully on the edge, providing some witty lyrics while poking fun at my own absurdity, is a great way to break down barriers and bond with an audience.  And, remember, people enjoy and are more open to a serious message when it's gift-wrapped with humor.

So, hopefully, you now are inspired to pursue some luminous lunacy, to explore the role of healing humorist and, of course, to…Practice Safe Stress!
 


Testimonials:

15th Sustainment Brigade, Ft. Hood, TX
[Predeployment Offsite on "Stress, Communications and Team Building" for 70 Officers and Spouses]

Feb 23, 2009

Mark:

I am not 100% sure what the CG (Commanding General) intends for his offsite, but he certainly expressed some interest in your services (stress mgmt, team bldg, conflict resolution techniques) for the 13th HQs offsite starting 29 MAR. 

Boss, with your permission, I can work this piece with Doc and offer you some proposals.  At a minimum, I would recommend that we plan on the "drawing exercise" and the role play skits.  BOTH of these are very revealing!

Mark...what a great time you facilitated.  I especially am appreciative of the time you carved out to mentor and observe/interject with the spouses.  Simply outstanding feedback from all of them!

V/R,

LP

COL Larry Phelps
Commander, 15th SUS BDE
Work: 254-287-8250
Cell: 254-702-1318
Every Day...Better!
SUPPORT THE ACTION!
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Readers:

Subj:  A Jewish Perspective

From:  MDodick@aol.com

A Jewish man  was sitting in Starbucks reading an Arab newspaper. A friend of his, who  happened to be in the same store, noticed this strange phenomenon. Very  upset, he approached him and said: 'Moshe, have you lost your  mind?  Why are you reading an Arab newspaper?

Moshe replied, 'I  used to read the Jewish newspapers, but what did I find? Jews being  persecuted, Israel being attacked, Jews disappearing through  assimilation and intermarriage, Jews living in poverty?  So I switched  to the Arab newspaper.  Now what do I find? Jews own all the banks, Jews control the media, Jews are all rich and powerful, Jews rule the  world.  The news is so much  better!'
 


Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker and "Motivational Humorist" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN speaking and workshop programs.  In addition, the "Doc" is a team building and organizational development consultant for a variety of govt. agencies, corporations and non-profits and is AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™.  Mark is an Adjunct Professor, No. VA (NOVA) Community College and currently he is leading "Stress, Team Building and Humor" programs for the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions, Ft. Hood, Texas.  A former Stress and Conflict Consultant for the US Postal Service, the Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.  And to view web video highlights of a Stress Doc Keynote, go to http://www.stressdoc.com/media_downloads.htm
.

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2009

Shrink Rap™ Productions

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