The strength of humor

February 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

Follow the examples of those who see the lighter side of life.

A police officer who prided himself on his toughness, Officer Stoneface, as we'll refer to him, had never pulled over a car without issuing the driver a ticket. No questions, no warnings, no hesitation. For years, "Tickets only!" was Stoneface's ironclad policy - until the day he saw a driver make an illegal turn.

It wasn't unusual, and Stoneface calmly switched on his lights and siren, gave chase and motioned for the driver to stop. Then, as was his habit, he approached the offender and mercilessly whipped out his pen and ticket pad. He was about to write. But before he could do so, the driver rolled down his window, leaned out and said, "I'll have a Big Mac and fries."

Stoneface couldn't keep from laughing. And thus ended his perfectly tough record.

"How can you give a ticket when you're laughing?" he later confessed.

Even Officer Stoneface, perhaps the world's toughest cop, succumbed to humor, a gentle strength you too can develop.

A humorous outlook can be wonderfully effective, as well as therapeutic, in a variety of otherwise difficult situations. For example, if you're intimidated by your boss, you can overcome this debilitating feeling by occasionally drawing caricatures of him or her. Look at them, laugh at them, especially just before you meet with your boss, and you'll find yourself relaxing, your fear subsiding.

An optometrist I know wanted to reduce his patients' high levels of anxiety when they arrived for their appointments. He came up with this idea: a sign above his receptionist's desk that read, "If you don't see what you're looking for, you're in the right place." Now his patients enjoy a hearty laugh when they arrive, and usually are still smiling when they sit in the examination chair.

Humor can even be a means of dealing with alarming situations.

For example, the San Francisco Police Academy now teaches the use of humor as part of an assertiveness training and conflict management course. And officers like Adelle Roberts continue to prove that humor should indeed be part of every police officer's arsenal.

Investigating a routine family disturbance call, Roberts parked her patrol car in front of the house where the family fight was in full fury. She heard a commotion, then saw a TV set fly out of the second story window.

Knowing how defensively the family would respond to the typical show of force ("Police! Open up!") she decided to try a humorous approach. She knocked, and when someone yelled, "Who is it?", she replied, "TV repair!"

Laughter ensued, the door opened and she proceed to help settle the dispute.

Sergeant Mike Pera also uses humor in the course of his police work, like the time he responded to an auto accident. Nobody was hurt, but the driver who caused the accident was furiously denying fault. Pera had to give him a ticket along with a notice to appear in court. But seeing how this would only infuriate the man, Pera disguised his intention with a little humor.

"Please sign this document, sir," Pera said. "That's a ticket!" the man yelled. "What am I getting a ticket for? I'm not signing it!"

Pera then replied, "Oh, no. It's just a receipt for the accident, sir."

The man paused, smiled and signed it.

All of the situations described above, however, are insignificant compared with the fever-pitch tension felt by those accompanying President Ronald Reagan after he had been shot by would-be assassin John Hinkley.

With the bullet deep in his chest, Reagan felt intense pain. Yet he maintained his composure. He even helped those around him maintain their composure by using humor.

"Honey, I forgot to duck," he joked with his wife Nancy. And to the team of doctors: "I hope you're all Republicans!"

They all laughed. So did he. And the President of the United States survived, thanks to the gentle strength of humor.

Here's what you can do:


•Â Laugh sooner. After several years have passed, most people are able to laugh about the tragedies they've experienced. So why not laugh sooner? If there's no longer anything you can do about it, laugh!


• Look for humor in everyday situations, and when you see it, say so. Help others see it, so they can laugh too. Saying the right thing at the right time is a skill you can develop, so be bold. Experiment!


•Â Next time, you feel yourself getting angry, get happy instead by recognizing the absurdity of the situation. Like the airline ticket counter agent who was faced with two irate businessmen who had missed their flight and were blaming her. Nothing she said seemed to assuage their anger. So she slammed down her pen and stated firmly, "If you don't stop this behavior immediately, I'll have to spank both of you!" Wide-eyed and slack-jawed, they looked at each other and then laughed uproariously at their own foolishness. Yes, humor is power! PR

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