Monday, June 27, 2011

Chemical mismodulation and other questionable laughter

Laughter and humor are in the news a lot these days because they are being proven to be therapeutic allies, however, humor and laughter are not always helpful. Yes, there are benefits to be derived from the psychological, social, and physiological effects associated with laughter and humor. Yet, as too many people are painfully aware, being the butt of a joke or part of a group that's made fun of can leave lasting emotional scars. Laughter and humor they are not always signs of health; they may be signs of something disordered or pathological. What makes the difference?
Some humor and some laughter is hurtful (toxic). According to  the therapeutic principles, methods, and code of ethics of World Laughter Tour, Inc. (WLT) , anyone engaged in capitalizing on the therapeutic potential of laughter and humor --lay person or professional--  will certainly be less than effective, and is cautioned against doing harm if they fail to distinguish between helpful, hurtful, and pathological laughter, and make the appropriate interventions.
For example, ridicule, zingers and put-downs, are joking that makes fun of or takes unfair advantage of other people’s weaknesses, disabilities, or differences. WLT categorizes these as hurtful, harmful, or toxic; to be avoided. The same is true of sneering, jeering, and sinister, or sarcastic laughter. Some mental and physical maladies have laughter as presenting characteristics; they are signs of an illness (pathology). None of this is promoted or permitted in the context of WLT therapeutic laughter programs.

True-Mirthful Laughter
I first came across this very useful term in the writings of William Fry, Jr., MD. The distinction he was aware of more than thirty years ago is now finding favor among contemporary theorists of laughter and humor. Some go so far as to conjecture that the physical act of laughter in the absence of the emotional state of mirth, i.e., faked or forced or chemically induced laughter, will not have the same associated positive physiology; will not have the same benefits.Hurely, et al, offer another useful concept in this regard, "...the chemical mismodulation of normal neural responses." (Inside Jokes,(MIT2011) p.128)

According to Wikipedia, in the mid-19th century, positive smiling, something akin to true-mirthful laughter, was first identified by French physician Guillaume Duchenne, while conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions, identified two distinct types of smiles. A Duchenne smile involves contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (which raises the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which raises the cheeks and forms crow's feet around the eyes). A non-Duchenne smile involves only the zygomatic major muscle. “Research with adults initially indicated that joy was indexed by generic smiling, any smiling involving the raising of the lip corners by the zygomatic major…. More recent research suggests that smiling in which the muscle around the eye contracts, raising the cheeks high (Duchenne smiling), is uniquely associated with positive emotion.

"Duchenne laughter" is the name given to stimulus-driven, emotionally valenced; spontaneous. In some research, Duchenne laughter was found to involve orbicularis oculi muscle action, related to self-reports of reduced anger and increased enjoyment, the dissociation of distress, better social relations, and positive responses from strangers, whereas non-Duchenne laughter did not.
In contrast, non-Duchenne laughter is self-generated, emotionless; forced; false; manipulative, e.g., always laughing at the boss’s jokes.

Characteristics of true mirthful laughter
1. It sounds warm and inviting. You want to join in even when you don’t know what was funny originally.
2. There is almost always something in the objective reality which can be observed as the laughter stimulus (or it can be feasibly explained).
3. The laughter erupts spontaneously and is often followed by a [comment about] sense of relief or release, “Thanks! I needed that.”
4. The laughter is not forced or faked in any way.
5. The laughter is not chemically induced.
6. The laughter is at no one’s expense.

Examples of laughter associated with pathology
A. Neurological conditions:
  • Pseudo-bulbar palsy
  • Gelastic epilepsy
  • Various brain-damage disorders
B. Psychiatric conditions:  
  • Hebephrenic schizophrenia
  • Psychotic hallucinations (auditory & visual)
C. Intoxications:  
  • The “happy” drunk
  • Nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
  • Cannabis- (marijuana) induced giggles
  • Manganese poisoning
D. The humor itself is toxic (from Joel Goodman):
  1. It fails the “A.T. & T.” test (is not Appropriate, Timely & Tasteful).
  2. Uses ridicule, sarcasm, or taboo language.
  3. Makes unwanted jokes about serious subjects.
  4. Hostile teasing hides behind “just joking” excuse.
At the present state of our understanding, awaiting further evidence that proves otherwise, WLT has taken the position that it is best to think of “true mirthful laughter" as the positive, helpful, or beneficial laughter, and "toxic laughter" is that which is associated with some pathology or other negative state.
In The Gelopedia, Therapeutic is defined as: Originally, or traditionally, the exclusive domain of medicine. Adopted and expanded in modern times, e.g., from a field called Positive Psychology, therapeutic goes beyond finding cures and ‘fixing what’s broken’ to include strengthening what is working well, improving/maintaining quality of life, building self-confidence and self-esteem, enhancing social skills, teaching coping strategies, blocking fear/panic/anger/depression, uplifting perspective, and reinforcing hope.
Go for the good
Beware of toxic humor and laughter for the damage it can do and the pathology it might portend. For its therapeutic benefits, the laughter you're after should be the true-mirthful kind.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Get a job...sha-na-na-na!

Role Models
My parents were my earliest role models for a work ethic, which is a very good thing because, while they obviously enjoyed my consistent reply to, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" ("A doctor!"), they were fairly short on experience from which to give me actual career advice. I was the first and only member of our immediate household to go to college. My career has been a matter of fate, divine intervention, trial-and-error, bad decisions, dumb-luck good choices, and a philosophy I picked up along the way.

Born in 1909, Jack Wilson and Shirley Kalter made a comfortable middle-class home for the household family that included my sister, Phyllis (6 years older) and our maternal grandparents, the Kalters (Pop-pop Jacob, from Budapest, and Maman Anne, from Vienna). Like many other depression-era survivors, they became frugal money-managers. They always drove a relatively new car, managed to give us wonderful, summer-long boarding-house vacations in Atlantic City, and eventually could afford to move us to a luxury high-rise apartment in center-city, from which dad could then walk to work.
Atlantic City 1950
During the last 65 years of his life, my father held two jobs. They were very similar functions and responsibilities (be sure the customers get what they ordered, on time) in the same industry (the design and manufacture of high-end men's clothing), but for two different companies. And the last job carried an impressive title. He had grown with the company in that job, and way before computers, had designed and organized all of the paper-and-pencil systems for order fulfillment and inventory management & movement that kept his side of this international business running smoothly; no customer or employee complaints; his employees loved him. He was the only one who knew all of the intricacies of the system he had built and acclimated to slowly over time. When he finally called it quits, it took five people to replace him.

Dad's career advice: "You have to have stick-to-it-ive-ness!" He certainly had it and lived it. He quit school in the third grade to go to work to help support his parents, brothers and sisters. The success he achieved later in life was the result of being a self-made man. At age 8, he was selling newspapers on street corners in the business district of Philadelphia, learning from his fellow street-hawkers to cut the fingers off of his gloves during the cold winter days to be able to make change faster. At the end of the day, if he could bring home fifteen cents for his mother, that was a very good day. I was touched by his stories of poverty and hard work. But stick-to-it-ive-ness did not stick to me the way they expected.

Dad's formula for a balanced life was expressed in his often repeating a proverb from "the old country", Russia, where his father was born, "If a man has only two pennies, with one penny he should buy bread and with the other penny he should buy flowers because the soul needs nourishment." He also observed and passed on to us in an advisory tone, "It doesn't matter how many talents and assets you have in life, or how hard you work,  you need a little bit of luck, too." Now, those thoughts stuck with me.

As the family breadwinner, he rose daily at 5 a.m., shaved, had a breakfast of coffee, toast and six prunes, which he stewed himself weekly. Then he rode two trolleys and the "El" (the elevated train & subway part of public transportation) to work, and returned promptly by 6 p.m. via the same route. The postal creed must have been learned from my dad: neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor dark of night, nor that he suffered from a progressive nerve deafness, could keep him from getting to and doing his job.

Mom, who looks quite the flapper in the early part of the family album, was runner-up harmonica champion of Philadelphia circa 1923. She invariably reminded us of this achievement every time she played harmonica for us; we always accepted her claim but I don't recall ever seeing any substantiating evidence. At about the same age (14) I was the yo-yo champion of our section of West Philadelphia, winning lots of trophies, a vest and sew-on patches, but there's no existing proof of that, either, so it's easy for me to say let's just let the claims stand as fact.

My mother, too, had a phenomenal work ethic. Smart and musically talented, and very outgoing, marriage at 18 and raising a family thwarted her dreams of going to Normal School (that was the name given to the teacher's college). When her kids were old enough, she went to work as a bookkeeper. Also a staunch proponent of stick-to-it-ive-ness, she held that job with one company, where they loved her. In her day she would have been lauded as a steady-Eddie (highly reliable) and a crackerjack (top-notch) employee. Her untimely death of ovarian cancer at 52, was a shock that threw all of us for a loop.

Having lost the only love of his life, my dad went into a dark, grievous depression that lasted more than two years. Years later he told that he had been so far down that he thought he would never come out of it, would never see a happy moment again. He said that it was impossible for him to believe his friends who told him, "Jack, this too shall pass." His salvation was work; keeping his routine and getting to the office every day. "And one day," he told me, "I realized I was not as sad as the day before. It was passing." I know from watching him sob at my mother's grave every time we visited it for the next forty years, that he never completely got over losing her. And, why should he?

Mom and Phyllis c.1938
Dad c. 1951 with a high-tech hearing aid built into his eyeglasses

With these as my primary role models, and no one at home to give me guidance, and with a few helpful platitudes and here-and-there advice, I have managed to stumble into a career. As Danny Kaye recounts his career path as "The Court Jester":
I'm proud to recall that in no time at all,
With no other recourses but my own resources,
With firm application and determination,
I made a fool of myself!

But First, Hauling Ashes
Confucius said, "Choose an occupation that you love and you may never have to work a day in your life." I wonder how long it took him to figure that out. Historically, boys, girls, and other lowly grunts have started their working lives by "hauling ashes". Now, in today's nomenclature, getting one's ashes hauled refers to relief from sexual tension, but  back in the day actually doing a job called hauling ashes meant doing the most menial of jobs, for a pittance, often as the first work anybody would pay you to do, and part of the rites of passage to eventually being worth real wages. In today’s world it often means working in fast food, asking “Would you like fries with that?” Well, I don't think I chose my occupation so much as tip-toed staggeringly into it; I don’t recall that there was any ceremonial rite-of-passage about it; and, I'm still not entirely sure what "it" is.

My earliest jobs, around age 14, were working for a friend of my father's who had a connection with the concessions at various events in Philadelphia: at Convention Hall, climbing up and down the stand hawking "Ice cold orange drinks! Who'll have an orange drink?" at the Warriors (later the Seventy-Sixers) basketball games. Also, hawking pennants and souvenirs at the Army/Navy game, hot chocolate at the Mummer's parade (too damn cold if you ask me), selling hot-dogs at the vacation show, the home & garden show, the sportsman's show, and the dog show. No puns and no buns. I was told to bring bread from home and then I could use it to eat all the hot dogs I could without being charged for them because we were accountable to turn in cash only for the buns used; they could easily count the buns but the hot dogs were by weight, not actually counted. These jobs provided good spending money (paid in often-soggy cash) for a kid, and my first lessons in beating the system, putting one over on the man. I was hauling ashes.

I Hate School!
From age 10 through my teens I demonstrated what can only be called a variegated curiosity. I'm sure it wasn't any actual deficit of attention span, but it caused my parents worry and obvious disappointment as they repeated their refrain of stick-to-it-ive-ness. I am sure they gave up all hope that I had any. Many passions that blossomed for me during those formative years. Some lit up and mesmerized me like shooting stars but burned out quickly; others have lasted a lifetime. Some of my varied interests included: tap dancing, radio serials and quiz shows; Erector(tm) sets, chemistry sets, orange crate skaters, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, bicycles, football, baseball, magic, stage make-up, yo-yos, Tom Lehrer, and guitar (folk singing); Oscar Brand's bawdy songs; American Bandstand; girls.

Cub Scout 1950

Biology at Sayre Junior High School was a disaster for me. The phyla of flora and fauna were a mystery to me. I never admitted it to my parents, but all of my plans for medical school vanished right there. Chemistry at West Philly High School was the same. I loved the demonstrations when the teacher made things explode, and my friend, Myron Mintz, using laboratory equipment (beakers, burners and condensation tubes) built a still in his basement where we home brewed vodka from potato peelings.

I hated tenth grade, felt like a misfit, discovered that I had quite a knack for playing pinball, and made the greatest, most enchanting discovery of all: I could skip almost all of the tenth grade. I could play hooky frequently, skip school for a day or two at a time, forge my father's signature on an absence excuse note and, except for an "F" in French, never got caught! What was so enchanting was that I rode the trolley from the school to downtown, arriving just as the magic shops were opening for business.

I Become The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Bowman the Magician (1955)
Magic was magical. The magicians who worked there were excellent demonstrators are what make customer buy the tricks, to learn how it's done. Harry Reed ("The Great Hareedo"), at Ben's Magic Shop, and Bill Cordray at Chanin's Magic down the street, sort of took me in, gave me asylum, paid me (in always dry cash) for cleaning up the stock rooms (another form of hauling ashes) and taught me the secrets of magic & illusions. They also taught me the importance of having a stage name. A age 14, I was inducted into the Junior Yogi Club of Philadelphia and I became "Bowman the Magician", the precursor to Joyologist, and Cheerman-of-the-Bored.

I Love School
High School yearbook (1958). The pattern is set.
By eleventh grade somebody flipped a switch. I cannot explain why, but now I loved school and went every day. I still missed the Magic Shops but visited my friends there only on Saturdays. I became president of the high school French Club and created its newsletter, which my first guardian-angel teacher, Janet Swerdlow, helped me name "Le Blageur", French for "The Joker"! Are you starting to see a pattern here?

Early Humor Influences

When an infant laughs in its crib, we don't say, "Gee, that kid's got a great sense of humor!" The ability to laugh and smile is inborn, but a sense of humor is something you develop.

This list is impossible to make complete, and many are lost to memory, but here are some that I remember that amazed me, amused me, thrilled and inspired me. As usual, they are in no particular order. Abbott & Costello, Gene Shepherd, Morey Amsterdam, “The Life of Riley”, New Yorker, MAD Comics, Roger Price, Ernie Kovacs, Max Shulman, Blackstone, Clarence Day, Will Cuppy, Ogden Nash, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Fibber McGee & Molly, "Can You Top This?", Howdy Doody, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Donald Duck, Little Lulu, Popeye, the Marx Brothers, the Ritz Brothers, Red Buttons, Bob and Ray, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Martha Raye, Red Skelton, Steve Allen, “Your Show of Shows”, Jack Paar, Jerry Lester, The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, my bunk-mates at Camp Kahagon in 1952, and my dad's Pinochle pals.

Back to Jobs and Careers
"I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun." Thomas Edison is supposed to have said that. All fun? Really? All?

For the next two years, my after-school job was as the shipping clerk (actually, I was the entire department) for my uncle Irving's clock-watch-and-electric shaver repair shop. He learned the trade in the Navy during WWII, and had built a thriving business. I punched the time clock, worked a few hours every day, wrapped and labeled every package, and wearing a smartly stylish work apron (a symbol of my status), wheeled the packages on a hand cart to the post office. This was a higher form of hauling ashes; there was an actual bi-weekly paycheck.

Throughout my undergraduate years at Temple University, my brother-in-law, Bernie Torner, gave me a job with a very cool place to hang out. "Electronic Servicenter" (not exactly a stage name, but at least a play on words) sold fine, often imported, "Hi-Fi" audio equipment for custom installation to upper-crust Philadelphians; several customers were musicians n the Philadelphia Orchestra. Stereo was just coming into fashion. The place was just a few blocks from my now downtown classy Philadelphia apartment. Okay, I stilled lived with my parents, but Park Towne Place was a fabulous address, on Benjamin Franklin Parkway just one block from the Museum of Art. I learned about and helped sell amplifiers, tuners, turntables, and speakers. My uniform was now the tweed jacket and striped tie of an Ivy League B.M.O.C. (well, the University of Pennsylvania was a stone's throw from here), and my paycheck was large enough to keep my car (a tiny Fiat sedan) running and allow me to take girls on nice dates. I was hauling ashes but at a much higher level.
1957 Fiat 500
Fast Forward (see if you can spot the stage names as I move from job to job)
A series of jobs followed. Occupationally, I was at sea. my career path became a zig-zag wake behind me. Here's a quick resume; hang on tight. Human Resources intern in the Personnel Research Department of Sun Oil Company (Phila.); human resource intern with the Ohio Highway Patrol; psychology assistant conducting employment testing for an industrial consulting firm (Phila.);  psychologist/director of treatment services at the Ohio Reformatory for Women; the Weeks School in Vermont (delinquent and emotionally disturbed kids); the Connecticut Women's Prison; director of the Nicholas Youth Center (back to Ohio); educational consultant with the Ohio Department of Mental Health; director of Help On Weekends (the H.O.W. adolescent drug treatment program) at Cincinnati Jewish Hospital Department of Psychiatry; Chairman of Mental Health Technology at Columbus Technical Institute, which is now Columbus State Community College; founder of Ohio Professional Counseling Services, large group private practice for counseling and psychotherapy in Columbus, Ohio; created PHOTO-LAFFs, a carnival-type business; professional speaker, author and founder DPJ Enterprise (Don't Postpone Joy), then Steve Wilson & Co.; founder of World Laughter Tour; Director of National Humor Month.

 At first glance it may look like I can't keep a job, but take a closer look and you will see some patterns here. The obvious one is, to the chagrin of my dear departed parents looking down from heaven, that I don't seem to stick to anything for very long. One that isn't so obvious is that I have a very strong work ethic. I didn't start working as early in life as my dad; he had a five or six-year headstart on me. I work hard, with integrity and creativity. After I got the hang of what working a jobs were all about, I pretty much only changed changed when I had a vision that I could do better or be happier. Eventually, changing jobs became more like morphing into the next good thing. I learned that I could love my work if I was willing to follow a few principles.

Peripatetic Career Counseling Eventually Led Me to This

In no particular order, here are some of the most important ideas that I picked up along the way. These are the advice and directives that most likely have brought me through the jobs I've worked at and the career I now enjoy.

  • You have to have stick-to-it-ive-ness!
  • If a man has only two pennies, with one penny he should buy bread and with the other penny he should buy flowers because the soul needs nourishment.
  • Making a living is not as important as making a life.
  • You can't always do what you want to do, but you can almost always stop doing what you don't want to do.
  • In every job to be done, there's an element of fun." ~Mary Poppins
  • If it isn't fun, I don't want to  do it.
  • Permission granted to be unconventional; a mandate for making progress; and, mandatory for my happiness, too, but not everyone is suited for it.
  • If you want to be good at marketing and advertising, take all the psychology courses you can.
  • I'm tired of working for a**holes, idiots and jerks.
  • I want to make and learn from my own mistakes; I'll take the blame and I'll take the credit.
  • Being your own boss means you get to choose any eighty hours a week you want to work.
  • Being your own boss means working half time; you get to choose noon-to-midnight or midnight-to noon.
  • Don’t cheat. Charge a fair price. Strive for a right livelihood.
  • I'm not the hat I wear or the title of the position I fill right now; I am first, last and always a human being.
  • No risk, no reward.
  • No matter what other assests you might possess, you have to have a little bit of luck, too.
  • “Do you know what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted? He lived happily ever after.” ~Willie Wonka
  • I have certain essential qualities and talents that can never be lost or taken away from me; these are the tools that enable the Phoenix to rise from the ashes.

Look, mom! Look, dad! Can you see me now? Thanks for the gifts you gave me. What I've stuck to is being me, and it worked out well. I hope I've made you proud.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A funny thing happened on the way to the Parthenon

By a show of hands, how many of you have had someone tell you a joke or send you one via e-mail that you've heard before, maybe heard it many times before? By a show of hands, how many of you actually heard the joke a really l-o-n-g time ago, say like in 2nd grade? One more time, by a show of hands, how many of you roll your eyes and have a clever retort to let the teller/sender know it was old, like, "thanks for the moldy oldie"?

Here are a few I have heard:
"That joke was so old, the first time I heard it I broke the slats on my crib laughing!"
"That joke was so old, the Big Bang woke it up!"
"That joke is so old the dinosaurs were telling it."
"That jokes is so old that Moses told it in the desert!"
"That joke is so old that Eve told it to Adam!"
"That joke is so old that the first time I heard it I fell off my dinosaur!"
OK, you get the idea. You can use the comment section of this blog to share your favorite moldy oldie-type of retort.

But did you know that many jokes being told today actually were told thousands of years ago? They just get updated with modern scenarios and up-to-date semantics & syntax. How do we know this? We know because we (well, archaeologists, anyway) have a copy of the first joke book: Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana*, more commonly known as Philogelos, a collection of 264 Greek jokes first complied in the fourth or fifth century BC, and considered to be the first known joke book.

Here are some of the jokes as translated by Professor William Berg**.

Any resemblance between these ancient jokes and anything you might have heard in your lifetime is purely, absolutely historically fascinating...and funny!

130. A Sidonian professor enters the public bath as soon as it opens. Finding no one else there, he comments to his slaves, 'It looks to me as if the bath isn't working.' 

141. Steering his ship, a quick-witted captain is asked, 'What kind of wind do we have today?' 'Beans and onions, I'd say,'  comes the response.

146. A sharper steals a pig and starts running with it When he's caught, he sets the pig on the ground and thrashes it, declaring, 'Do your digging here, not on my property!'

147. A quick study, coming upon a singer who's both shrill and off-key, greets him with the words, 'Hello there, Mr. Rooster!' 'Why do you call me that?,' asks the singer. 'Because whenever you crow, everybody gets up.'

148. When the garrulous barber asks him, 'How shall l cut  your hair?,' a quick wit answers, 'Silently.'

160. A Kymaean goes to see a friend of his. He's standing in front of the friend's house, calling his name, when another voice answers, "Shout louder, so he can hear!" So the Kymaean shouts, "Hey, Louder!"  

170. Someone asks a Kymaean where the attorney Dracontides lives. The guy responds, 'I'm all alone here,
but if you don't mind, watch my workshop and I'll go out and show you.'

228. A drunk is being railed at for losing touch with reality when he's had a snootful. Barely able to see straight because of the wine, the drunk retorts, 'Who's the drunk here, you or me - you two-headed freak!'

263. Someone tries to needle a quick-witted man by telling him, 'I had your wife for free.' But he just says, 'Me, I'm forced to put up with such an evil. What's forcing you?'

264. A sharp lawyer is pleading a case before a judge. When the judge nods off, the lawyer shouts, '1 appeal!' 'To whom?', asks the judge. 'To you, to wake up!'

265. A student dunce asks how many pints a 9-gallon amphora holds. 'Are we talking wine or water?' is the
answer he gets.    

It has been said that there are two sure rules for making something funny; unfortunately, nobody knows what they are! But, somebody must know something because here you can see the ancestral heritage of material you've heard and enjoyed from Hope, Youngman, Dangerfield, Leno, Benny, Berle, and many others who entertain us in modern times.

This jester tips his hat to the humorists, comics, and comedians who keep us laughing, whether the jokes are 3,000 years old or fresh and original, whether they are delivered by professionals, traveling salesmen, class clowns, or the person in the cubicle next to yours. Hooray, for funny people and for jokes!

Now, let's see, what would you imagine a 3,000 year-old joke might have sounded like?
"Knock, knock."
"Who's there?"
"Euripides who?
"Euripides pants, you in big trouble!"

Try your hand (or funny-bone) at coming up with our own, then share in the comment section.

* Ed. R. Dawe (c)K.G. Saur Verlag, an imprint of Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG Munchen 2001
**YUDU Media, London, UK

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Someone You Should Know: Katy Franco

The art of humor and the humor of art are important but often overlooked aspects of the vital role that humor and laughter play in our lives. Humor itself is an art. And, artists of all genres--visual, musical, written, comedic, etc.) create humor, portray humor, and use their talents to illuminate the human condition. Many of their creative 'products' can contribute to healing. There is a significant art-humor-healing intersection or energy vortex that I'll be elaborating on in a future blog.

With this blog I want to introduce you to Katy Franco, one of the people I consider the personification of the art-humor-healing intersection. The information here is largely taken from her websites, but comes from my heart because her joyous and funny work comes from her heart.

Katy Franco is a Latin American actress, celebrity, screamingly funny stand-up comic, and now a Certified Laughter Leader with World Laughter Tour.

Performing in English and Spanish, she has entertained in the United States, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Argentina.

Her acting credits include dramatic and comedic roles in the theater, soap-operas, films and mini-series (with an award for "best supporting actress"). She has hosted a children's television series and HBO Latino in Hollywood, and has been an entertainment reporter at Telemundo in Los Angeles. As a comic, she performs through:out Puerto Rico and tile USA, and in Hollywood's most famous nightclubs (including the Laugh Factory on Sunset Strip, where she is a regular, the Improv on
Melrose and the Ice House in Pasadena).

In 2006 Katy stepped into a very different spotlight when she announced that she was a breast cancer survivor. Appearing on stage and in countless news programs, magazine articles and newspaper stories, she devoted the past two years to educating Latinas about early detection. Her experiences became a one-woman show called Sacando Pecho about overcoming the disease. Since 2007 she also has been the spokesperson for Avon Puerto Rico's breast cancer crusade.

Since 2006 her breast cancer awareness campaign has enjoyed extensive coverage in the media. She created a one-woman show about her fight against the disease, and wrote “Chemorella” with her husband. Bilingual in English and Spanish, she has the experience and talent to enlighten and entertain women about breast cancer.

“Chemorella” is a Cinderella story about beating cancer and seeing your dreams come true. The heroine is a young woman who goes from the rags of illness to the riches of health, love and  success.

The book is in English and Spanish and has 28 beautiful fill-color illustrations.

“Chemorella” inspires hope while it entertains. This retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale is an inspiration to the patient, and helps kids and teens to deal with their fears. The story also gives parents a means to introduce the positive effects that the experience can have on the family.

Chemorella herself is a positive role model for the patient. Reaching out to the patient, this is a story to inspire her, make her laugh and reassure her she will indeed get better.

With humor and compassion, “Chemorella” addresses the challenges a cancer patient faces, such as depression, chemotherapy, surgery, and baldness. It shows how tears and fears can be overcome by courage, creativity, and accepting love from everyone around you. Its happy ending says that everything is going to be okay.

I am glad to call Katy my friend. I am glad she had the inspiration and talent to write this book. Everyone I know has been affected somehow by breast cancer. I wish it wasn't so, but you can be sure I will be sending out many copies of "Chemorella".

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Universal Principles of Human Being

"Wherever there is separation, wherever we see someone as 'other', as enemy, violence is possible. Where there is connection, there you will find only kindness, love, and compassion. It is not possible to see the humanity in another person and commit a violent act against him or her."
-- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Several years ago I started wondering about the possibility that a set of laws parallel to the laws of physics might apply to being human, being humane, or to how human beings should act in order to maximize safety, health, and happiness. Initially, I believed that these laws would have to pass the same tests as the laws of physics in everyday life, but could they? (I say everyday life because modern technology is showing that the older laws of the physical world have exceptions in extreme situations and with the advent of modern technology we know that atomic particles, and those even smaller, behave differently than you might expect under conditions of extreme speed, pressure, or temperatures.) For now, let's see if there are universal laws for everyday living.

I am not at all convinced that universal principles of human being operate the way I might wish, as laws, but I am open, and opening up the discussion as a way to help us think about it. For example, imagine that treating employees badly would, sooner rather than later or even much later, lead to the failure of a business. Imagine that your nose would grow like Pinocchio when you lied, or that your feet would burn like fire if you cheated someone, or that your hemorrhoids would flare up if you charged an exorbitant price.

Law Seekers
Sir Isaac Newton was looking for universals laws of motion.

Faraday and other early scientists discovered the universal laws of electricity, magnetism, and mathematics.

John Forbes Nash thought there might be a universal theory of human sociality.

More recently, Antonio Domasio is looking for a unified theory (universal laws?) of how the brain produces a self, as well as how it does many other things.

Matthew Gervais and David Sloan Wilson are looking for a unified theory (universal principles) of laughter.

Matthew M. Hurley, Daniel C. Dennet, and Reginald B. Adams, Jr., are looking for a unified theory (universal principles) of how humor works.

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow are looking for a unified theory (universal laws) of how the universe works.

Helen Johnson, Professional Education Research Centre, Roehampton University of Surrey, Southlands College, is looking for a unified theory (universal principles) of qualitative and redemptive indicators of performance of, especially, children in educational institutions.

Although they have been sought for centuries, I suggest we would do well to continue looking for a unified theory (universal laws) of human being. It is in our best interest to study the matter and, whether or not we find "the law" we will be much better off for having educated ourselves about the moral principles for human being.

Perhaps columnist, reporter and writer, David Brooks, had something like this in mind when he wrote about the dim prospects for peace in the Middle East ( June 2 , 2011), stating "They (Syria and Hamas) can never be part of a successful negotiation because they undermine the universal principles of morality."

Regarding the Ten Commandments, Rabbi Benjamin Blech writes, "God's words weren't intended just for one people. They were meant for the whole world because they represent the key to universal survival...Simply put, it is the idea of law, the concept of  'do this' and 'do not do that.' It is the notion that some things are right and some things are wrong. It is the rejection of cultural relativism..."

Qualities of Universal Laws
Hurley, et al, propose that a unified model of humor will have to adequately answer twenty specific questions that they put forth.

Hawking and his co-author also propose a list of questions that a proper set of unified laws of the universe must correctly answer.

To simplify the discussion for our purposes of our work with laughter and humor as therapeutic allies and necessaries for a happy life, I propose these 'tests' of a universal principle:
1. It has extremely high, almost perfect, predictive power. "If this, then that" holds true so often that we can reliably count on it affecting our lives in the very near term, short-term, medium-term, or very, very long-term.
2. The effect on our lives is such that safety, health, and happiness are involved. If you "obey" the law, you are highly likely to be safer, healthier, and happier. "Disobey" the law and you jeopardize your safety, health, and happiness.
3. The law operates equally on everybody, good and bad alike. There are no exceptions. It has no respect for age, intelligence, status, prestige, beauty, nationality, or religious belief.
4. The law works in your life whether or not you believe in it.

Let's look at a few examples.

Gravitational Force. Objects fall down. There is a gravitational force acting between any two objects in the universe. There is a gravitational force between you and Earth. There is also a gravitational force between you and the Sun, between you and all the other planets, and between you and the people sitting next to you. Why do we fall down towards Earth rather than towards the Sun, another planet, or the people next to us? The force of gravity between us and Earth is larger than the force from any of these other objects.

It's the law! Does it pass my tests for being a universal principal? Let's see. Is it predictable? Yes. Can we count on it reliably? Yes.  If you "obey" the law, are you highly likely to be safer, healthier, and happier? Yes. If you "disobey" the law do you jeopardize your safety, health, and happiness? Yes. Does it operate equally on everybody, good and bad alike, without exceptions (in everyday life)? Yes. Does the law work in your life whether or not you believe in it? Yes. You can't see gravity, touch it, taste it, hear it, or smell it. So, you might decide that you do not believe in gravity. But, this law does not require your belief in order to be operational.  You might not believe in it, but don't step off the roof!

Centrifugal Force. When something is going straight, it always keeps going straight unless something else stops it or turns it. If it can't go straight, then it goes as straight as it can. So when you hit a tetherball, it tries to go straight away from you. But the rope pulls on it and keeps the tetherball from going straight. So the tetherball goes as straight as it can - around the pole in a circle. That's centrifugal force - the energy of something trying to go straight even though it can't.

We know from Newton's first law that a body will retain its velocity (speed) unless another force acts upon it. When a body, say you are driving and the 'body' is your car, travels in a circle (around a curve) a force must be applied (apply the brakes) to slow it down and stop it from travelling in a straight line. This force is the centripetal force, the only force necessary for a circular motion. What is interpreted sometimes as a centrifugal force is the tendency of the object to follow in a straight line, which would bring it outside of its circular trajectory. Simply put, drive too fast around the curve and you are going off the road!

It's the law! Does it pass my tests for being a universal principal? Let's see. Is it predictable? Yes. Can we count on it reliably? Yes. If you "obey" the law, are you highly likely to be safer, healthier, and happier? Yes. If you "disobey" the law do you jeopardize your safety, health, and happiness? Yes. Does it operate equally on everybody, good and bad alike, without exceptions (in everyday life)? Yes. Does the law work in your life whether or not you believe in it? Yes. You can't see centrifugal force, touch it, taste it, hear it, or smell it. So, you might decide that you do not believe in it. But, this law does not require your belief in order to be operational. You might not believe in it, but don't speed around curves!

Get the idea? There are universal principals operating in the physical world. you might have studied them in high school in a class called Physics. The teacher may not have told you that obeying these laws could save your life, but it is true.

If they met the same tests that I proposed for laws of the physical world, universal laws of human being would have reliably predictable outcomes (long or short term), have a big influence on our health, safety and happiness, apply equally to everybody, and would operate in your life whether or not your believed in them.

Nominations for Laws of Human Being
Let me share some of the ideas that a few of my friends, family, and colleagues have come up with as possible laws of human being, or at least areas of everyday life for which laws could, should, or might be written. Readers are welcome to add their own nominations. From time to time I will update the topic.

The first thing that comes to my mind is what has come to be known as The Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," (Jesus), or, perhaps in the form of, "That which is hateful to yourself, do not do to others," (Buddha, Hillel). Or, maybe it's Hippocrates' dictum, "First, do no Harm". Do those 'laws' pass my tests? Do the Ten Commandments pass my test?

In no particular order, other nominations already received suggest that perhaps there are universal laws regarding:
- love
- honesty
- humility
- empathy
- kndness
- forgiveness
- compassion
- flexibility
- freedom from desire
- gratitude
- smiling
-"Look both ways before crossing a street."
-"Laughter, oh man, laughter REALLY helps!"
- "I believe God gave us instruction for living in His word, the Bible, and if followed will lead to a safer, healthier, and happier life and if disobeyed you jeopardize your safety, health, and happiness." 
- Do not kill (unless it's a mosquito or a roach)
- "Everything I like is either illegal, immoral or fattening." -W. C. Fields
- The Science of Epigenetics, Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, trying to show links between behavioral science and genetics, has begun to offer proof that health laws parallel natural laws.

Do you really believe that if you obey these laws and you find happiness, health, and a good life, but disobey these laws and you end up with sickness, violence, hatred, war, fear, rage, and depression?

Perhaps the universal principles of human being defy the test criteria because they work differently from the laws of the physical world.

What do you think?
Do we have any hope at all of finding a universal law of human being that would have consequences the way the laws of physics have? Or, is it the human dilemma that we can make choices and can create rationalizations and loopholes to justify any behaviors? If so, the consequences will not be automatic or necessarily be predictable. Human beings will have to be vigilantly aware that there is no correlation between celebrity and character, and we must rely on consequences of conscience, or obtaining justice in the enforcement of civil and criminal codes.

Please leave me a comment with your opinion or nomination for a topic for universal principles. If you can spell it out, all the better.