Gallows Humor

Whenever I give a workshop or a lecture, I never fail to encourage participants to read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. He was a psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps during World War II and who developed a form of psychotherapy called Logotherapy as a result. His book profoundly shows how individuals can survive the most horrific situations through grace, dignity, and humor.

In the preface of the book, Gordon Allport writes: “Hunger, humiliation, fear, and deep anger at injustice are rendered tolerable by closely guarded images of beloved persons, by religion, by a grim sense of humor, and even by glimpses of the healing beauties of nature—a tree or a sunset.” I’ve heard many accounts of how this type of humor, called “gallows humor,” has helped many people in difficult jobs, particularly health-care professionals. Anyone overhearing some of the conversation between nurses or doctors might be deeply offended, but for them it becomes a way to get relief from the horrors they witness. One of the most popular shows on television was “Mash” which was the quintessential example for “gallows humor”.

The great humanitarian psychologist Abraham Maslow once said “we must laugh at what we hold sacred and still hold it sacred”. This is often difficult for individuals who are heavily invested in thinking that their way is the way. Not being able to take the position of “the witness to your thinking patterns can lead you down the path to fanaticism. When we are fanatical about how we must live our lives and how others must also follow suit we are embarking on trying to become the leader of a cult.

I have listened to thousands of people describe situations that they deplore but cannot find a way out due to their inability to explore options. Their story becomes like an old TV series that plays over and over and they can’t seem to change the channel. What always fascinates me is that they lack a healthy sense of humor. Humor helps us to see the light and when you become fanatical the light is very dim or essentially non-existent.

I was very fortunate to be brought up in an irreverent family. As a child, I was dragged to many an Italian funeral, which often resembled a Frederico Fellini movie. There was high drama as a plethora of black clad women showed up to wail and moan. Then there would be bursts of laughter as people recalled stories about the dearly beloved. And, of course there was the inevitable discussion about the food that was to follow.

In today’s world we must all try to maintain the ability to laugh at what we hold sacred and to still hold it sacred. It will not only help maintain our sanity by also our ability to tolerate one another.



A picture is worth a thousand words~Vanity should not be one of them.

I was cleaning out the closet in my office the other day and came across two cameras. Both would be considered antiquated at this point since the birth of Smart Phones seems to have taken their place. It is now possible to take pictures at a moment’s notice wherever you are. As a result picture-taking has become epidemic. I am on Face Book and there are hundreds of photos that stream through the newsfeed on a daily basis. The types of photos cover a variety of people, places and things. But what really got my attention is a new type of picture called a “Selfie”. A Selfie is a photo someone takes of themselves. Often the self-portrait has a remark under it.” Thelma likes the picture of herself”. Then if Thelma is lucky, several other people will admire the new picture and add their accolades.

   I would love to see just once, someone who had the nerve to say, “you know this picture of you is lousy”! I doubt whether anyone will do that, since it wouldn’t be kind, but when is enough, enough? I’m sure I’m going to be perceived as “not being with it”, but we certainly have moved into an era that is totally in love with self-aggrandizement. It seems we not only like to talk about ourselves but we also need to have pictures of ourselves that are everywhere. I guess it makes sense if we forget what we look like.

  My family has always accused me of not being photo conscious and I’m in total agreement with them. I honestly don’t think about taking pictures. My family of origin wasn’t into it. Most photos were taken by a photographer on special occasions.  I also don’t think it’s necessary to have a hundred shots of a group of people at a gathering unless it’s a wedding, funeral, or an affair of state. Here’s Aunt Wilma, sitting next to Uncle Harry. Now here she is drinking her iced tea. Oh, look, here she is under the table pretending to be a monkey.

  Believe me, I think that having the ability to reflect on great memories through the eye of a camera is truly fabulous. But at the end of our lives, will there be someone who will have the time and energy to sort through and archive the mountains of pictures? Or would allowing ourselves to be more discerning in our picture-taking make sense? After all, isn’t one picture worth a thousand words?

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