Little Bigs – Part 2

Terry Lieb Healing Relationships, Living out your Faith 6 Comments

This is the second in a two-part post on what I call, “little bigs,” small things we can do to possibly help create some degree of understanding and healing in what I see as an increasingly divisive, antagonistic, and fear-driven climate. Your feedback on the first post about taking time to thank folks for a wide variety of services and small acts of kindness was overwhelming, refreshing, and empowering. Thanks! 

For those of you who have been following my blog over the years, you may remember a post I wrote entitled “Life‘s Lubricant.” Here is an excerpt:

“I believe there is also a lubricant for our life journey that enables us to keep going through all of the ups and downs we encounter, it reduces friction and promotes healing within us, and in our relationships. Without it, we too, may break down overtime. This amazing life lubricant that can ease our challenges and create joy in our daily life is humor.”

 If you weren’t on board back then, or simply “can’t recall” that post, I fully understand and you can read (or re-read!) it here Life’s Lubricant.

While that post focused primarily on how cultivating a humorous outlook can make our lives smoother and easier, this post will focus more on projecting that humor outward, connecting us with others and lightening the atmosphere of the negativity that surrounds us. One way that I try to encourage myself to do this is the daily challenge I mention in the “life’s lubricant” post: making at least seven people to laugh each day. Some days I am able to exceed that goal other days I fall short. 

Sometimes I’ve had to adjust my measurement standard over the years. For example, in our area, there are several Mennonite communities, a culture known for being serious and reserved. When I’m interacting with people in these communities, I count a smile as one point and an outright laugh as three!

There is a Mennonite roadside stand near our house that Rita and I like to patronize. Early on, I made it a priority to establish a relationship with the owner, a gracious, hard-working, and devout Mennonite woman named Lydia. I soon discovered that she was a particularly tough customer for my laugh challenge! Getting Lydia to even crack a smile was a major triumph. 

However, I refused to give up. One day I was picking up fresh eggs from the stand. Lydia was explaining to a potential customer that they only had pullet eggs available at the present time. A fox had cleaned out many of their chickens, and they were presently getting most of their eggs from young hens which in the beginning lay noticeably smaller eggs. 

Seeing my chance, I immediately piped in, saying, “However they are lower cholesterol eggs!” The “city slicker” customer seemed quite confused.

“Terry is always joking around and all the eggs have the same amount of cholesterol,”  Lydia, who is much straighter than an arrow, quickly explained, clearly not wanting to be associated with any false advertising.

Lydia did have a few regular-sized eggs there so I picked out the largest and held it beside the smaller pullet egg. “I can guarantee you this pullet egg has less cholesterol than this larger egg,” I assured the customer. She about “busted a gut” laughing!  When she finally gained control again, she said, “I’ll take two dozen of your low-cholesterol eggs!”

While the customer’s reaction was certainly satisfying, it was Lydia’s response I was really hoping for. And lo and behold, the corners of her mouth curved up into a quick smile! Success! I counted her smile as one point and at least one, possibly two, points for the customer’s hoots of laughter!

Of course, scoring points is not the “point”, connection is. Over the years, my relationship with Lydia has gradually moved from owner-customer to friends and I believe that my repeated, not-always-successful attempts at humor have been a major contributing driver.

Sometimes things don’t go as you think they will and someone doesn’t “get” your humor—probably one reason we may be reluctant to joke around, especially with people we don’t know.

Just a few days ago I discovered a tick on my back and my Doc suggested I get a blood test to check for Lyme’s disease. The lab where I go has had some staffing changes and I was assigned to a young phlebotomist who I never met before. She struggled with her English, and appeared to be anxious and lacking confidence. 

I first tried small talk, which went nowhere.  When she asked my date of birth, I gave it and followed with an old reliable line, “In order to relax and build a rapport with a patient, you could quickly say, ‘Gee, you don’t look nearly that old!’”  

I immediately realized that that brand of humor doesn’t necessarily translate with a person who has a limited understanding of the language! Her first reaction was total confusion, rightfully so. She was baffled; I was embarrassed. Should I just have kept my mouth shut and spared us both the awkwardness? I wondered.

It took a few minutes to dig out of my insensitive blunder. Of course, having to explain a joke is the death knell for its humor. But to my surprise, when she did finally understand my suggestion, she suddenly broke into uncontrollable laughter! So much so, I became concerned about her ability to get the needle into my vein!

Thankfully she was able to draw blood on the first try and afterwards, as I was headed for the door, I heard her comment to a colleague, “that old guy was really funny!” I feel like this connection, as “trivial” as it was, has opened the door to a relationship we can build on in the future. 

In the end, although there is a small risk of a joke not “landing” the way you think it will, I think it’s a risk worth taking. Even if your humor isn’t entirely appreciated every time, the intention behind it almost always is.

Of course, not everyone is comfortable with verbal humor or jokes. Like so much of life, “one size does not fit all!”  I strongly feel the same is true for humor, both the types we appreciate and the ones we initiate.

For example I have a growing number of friends who say they don’t have the skills to tell a funny story or initiate humor in a group but are excellent at scanning various resources on-line and then posting some very funny reels, stories, etc. I look forward to reading these on a regular basis to brighten up my day but also provide me with material to reach my “seven-laughs-a-day” challenge!  

It’s the modern version of the comic strips an eighty-year-old neighbor with “miner’s asthma” used to share with me when I was a teenager. We didn’t have much to talk about but occasionally his clippings from the “funny papers” was a way he could connect with me and they created some interesting conversations.

Unlike the comics of the old days, though, social media posts can have a dark side, often using various forms of “humor” to attack others. I see this especially in the political arena. I mustered the courage recently to raise my concern with an acquaintance who has a pattern of reposting derogatory cartoons and doctored-up images to make fun of political figures.  

This person is a very dedicated grandfather and spends significant time with his grandchildren.  When I asked him how his adult children respond to this practice, he said one son actually sends him some of the material he posts, but his other two adult children have chosen not to talk to him! I then asked him about his grandchildren, and he suddenly became quite defensive. “I don’t send this to my grandkids!” he snapped, clearly seeing where this was going.  

Humor can heal but it can also hurt! Even if the target of the joke is famous or never knows about it, this type of humor contributes to the negative, mean-spirited atmosphere and reinforces the idea that this kind of attitude towards others is acceptable. Is that worth it just to get a cheap laugh?

Another interesting use of humor that I’ve seen recently is the creative signage that some business owners are using. For example, here is a sign from an amazingly “jam-packed” antique conglomerate:

 

I commented on the sign to the owner and I obviously wasn’t the first to do so. “Most of the folks who get a kick out of the sign and take the time to let me know that are usually more pleasant and fun to deal with,” he told me. “Life’s lubricant” at work!

Here is another sign above a toilet in a local breakfast spot that brought a smile to my face and I expect to most who read it!

  I took time to affirm the owner for using “potty” humor to address an awkward and unpleasant situation. He thanked me and explained he wanted to do more than give customers a good meal, he wanted to create a playful, fun atmosphere and hopefully set the tone for the rest of their day. But since he wasn’t an extravert who finds it easy to engage people, he used the restaurant décor to help him out, including the bathroom sign. He said, “that simple sign has created some great conversations with customers who I wouldn’t have expected it from and surprisingly its even mostly fixed the toilet problem. Go figure!”

What a creative approach! It was just another reminder that the opportunities for humor are endless and bound only by the limits of our imagination. 

If you have found or developed unique ways to introduce humor as a means of healing in this amazing world our Sneaky God has blessed us with, please take the time to share in your response to this post. I’m always on the lookout for more “little bigs”!

 

QUESTIONS FOR DEEPENING THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY

  1. What type of humor do you appreciate most? Slapstick? Jokes? Funny stories? Heckling? Dry wit? Puns? What role does humor play in your relationships? How comfortable are you sharing your humor? What is the response generally?
  2. Have you ever been the target of or witness to mean-spirited humor? How did that feel? Did you respond? If so, how did that go? Have you ever participated in mean-spirited humor? How did that make you feel?
  3. If you post on social media, do you think your posts/reposts contribute to a positive or negative climate? Are you happy with what you are spreading?
  4. Do you have any items—signs, quirky yard ornaments, silly hats, funny t-shirts, bumper stickers—that can not just give people a laugh, but serve as a conversation starter? If you see something that gives you a chuckle, do you take the time to tell the owner that you appreciated it?
  5. Do you think humor plays a part in spirituality? Why or why not? How does it factor into your spirituality?
  6. Do you think it is possible or valuable to inject more humor into your interactions? Why or why not? What are some specific ways you could do this?
  7. Besides appreciation and humor, what other “little bigs” can you think of to build positive connections and strengthen the social glue that binds us together?
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Anthony Bifulco
Anthony Bifulco
May 5, 2024 12:40 pm

Terry,
As expected you certainly know how to show us the way we can be a better person. Hope you and Rita are enjoying your new home.
Regards,
Tony

Bill
Bill
May 5, 2024 1:26 pm

Once again I can soooo relate to this. I, too, believe the gift of laughter (not at anyones expense, unless it’s a little self-deprecating) is such a relatable way to engage with people. Granted it’s not always received in the way it was originally intended which can lead to awkward results. But, usually a little explanation clears that up. And I can’t help myself, though I never gave myself a daily goal…..though something to think about!!! And a quote from the late Billy Graham “A keen sense of humor helps us to overlook the unbecoming, understand the unconventional, tolerated the… Read more »

James Buskirk (Jim)
James Buskirk (Jim)
May 5, 2024 1:37 pm

Thanks, Terry, I have a very dry sarcastic sense of humor and have to struggle to keep it under control.

Suzanne Barron
Suzanne Barron
May 5, 2024 2:33 pm

This week I had a CT scan. The tech said she was getting married in a few weeks. “How long have you been married?” she asked. When I said 41 years she immediately asked what made our marriage last that long. “I need hints,” she said. I told her… a good sense of humor. We find things to chuckle over together all the time. She said, “We already do that!” I told her that her future marriage looked bright.

Tom
Tom
May 5, 2024 5:51 pm

This past Christmas, a friend gave me a 2024 flip calendar–one page per weekday, one for a weekend–of Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” cartoons. I like to read the caption first, then look at the picture. Rarely do I not laugh out loud. When I have an occasional “bad day”, I often notice that it didn’t start well. I have to make sure that I look at that calendar first thing in the morning.

Art Hahn
Art Hahn
May 8, 2024 12:06 pm

Terry: Thanks for the affirmation to lighten up. In Seminary, a book we had to read was: THE HUMOR OF CHRIST, Author; Elton Trueblood . I find ” A Moment of Mirth” before the worship service begins, puts a worshiping member in a more receptive mood for Word and Sacrament even if the attempt is corny. When searching Scripture, it amazing how often our Lord used exaggeration and other avenues of humor for receptive ears.