Sunday, December 8, 2013

Maxims of The Peaceful Teacher


The mission of World Laughter Tour has always been, "Together we can lead the world to health, happiness, and peace through laughter.” Every edition of the “Study Guide and Reference Manual”*, which has grown from 30 pages to 145, includes this advice to our students:

“Find your source, live from it, keep your heart open, and laugh generously.
These are maxims of the peaceful teacher, the tools of a gentle healer.”
~Alan Cohen

Not only are humor and laughter therapeutic allies of our physical and mental health, they are characteristics that reflect the spiritual health of humankind and this planet; what we call peace.

Thanks to the help, support, and encouragement of many friends, scientists, clowns, clinicians, and other laughter lovers, we have done a good job of understanding and promoting the health and happiness ideals of our mission, evolving to be referred to as tools for health and well-being.

Now, let’s focus more sharply on the peace ideals of the mission.

To open a conversation on the topic, I commend to you “Cultivating Peace: Becoming a 21st-Century Peace Ambassador," by James O’Dea (Shift Books, May 10, 2012). Deepak Chopra calls this holistic approach to peace work “a brilliant manifesto that weaves science, spirituality, and social healing into a peace roadmap for us all.”

Jill Knox, RN, turned me on to the book. She is a peace activist, an advocate for healthy humor, and the current president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. Her vision and passion for these things will be a lasting legacy to our field. I will do what I can to help.

You would probably never expect O’Dea, who spent ten years as the Director of the Washington Office of Amnesty International, to lead off in Chapter One making a cogent and compelling case  about the importance of laughter in laying the foundation for us to work for peace. “Cultivating Peace,” he says, “begins with not taking ourselves so seriously.” He reminds us that, “a world without laughter would not be a safe or peaceful world.”

Anger and violence, he says, constantly cook up a “biochemical brew…that is toxic at every level--physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. They shut down the body’s exquisite ease, delight, and pleasure signals and replace them with hypervigilance and stress alerts.”

From that premise, he examines, explains, coaxes, cajoles, and carefully convinces us that the art and heart of peace advocacy and activism is within us our grasp. It will take some work to make it manifest but he shows the way. He calmly convinces us that we can find greater peace within ourselves, tantalizing us with the prospect of profound personal satisfactions as well as the realization of the better world we seek and often speak of. He repeatedly and realistically cautions us that the road to peace will not be smooth nor easy nor quick, but the promised  destination is possible eventually and definitely worth the trip.

A few quotes from Cultivating Peace, Chapter One:

The peace journey begins with understanding positive emotions, seeing how “truth, reconciliation, and forgiveness are essential components of collective healing strategies…”

“In time, I came to learn that too much seriousness is deadly.”

“Any kind of overbearing behavior--be it self-righteousness, bigotry, aggression, condemnation, arrogance, or finger-pointing--is an interruption of the body’s circuitry of love joy and play.”

“When we cultivate love and joyful service, we live longer, healthier, happier lives.”

“…jokes can have a way of revealing sadness, emptiness, hostility, and even viciousness. But true humor does not carry a poison pill.”

“Laughing is about the bubbling up of connection.”

Get hold of a copy of Cultivating Peace and start reading. Then, please join me in reflecting and connecting how humor and laughter are not only therapeutic allies in the sense of your physical health, but also in the healing of humankind and this planet.

If you have a favorite quote about peace, please share it with me here or on Facebook.

Click These Links to Listen to John Lennon and Leadbelly

* CLICK HERE to purchase the Study Guide and Reference Manual.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Geloforecasting: Predicting the Future of “Laughter and Humor” as Therapeutic Allies

Do you have a crystal ball? How’s your intuition these days? Your foresight? How are you at forecasting and predicting? How about imagining, hoping and dreaming?
The basic training of Certified Laughter Leaders emphasizes the importance of being ‘possibility thinkers’. But, whether or not you are ‘certified’, as we come to the close of another calendar year, many of us who love laughter and humor will reflect on the past year and resolve for the one coming up. I thought it might be fun to invite all readers of this blog to ponder some pipe dreams and possibilities around our theme.

‘Pipe dreams’ is a noun phrase that typically means a fanciful or impossible plan or hope. However, I’m thinking of Normans Cousins’ idea that, “Progress is possible only when people believe in possibilities of growth and change.” When enumerating the many ways and reasons that he believed human life is precious, he included, “because we can continue to create in ways we have never created before. We can do the impossible.”
Norman Cousins
Think about the theme of this blog: Laughter and Humor Are Therapeutic Allies. What will that look like in five years? Or, ten years? Or???
I am inviting you to join me in dreaming about the future of what we might loosely refer to as touching lives with laughter;  your personal practice, and our practice together.
What might 'laughter' look like in 2014, 2019, 2024, or beyond?
We call our mutual interest “laughter and humor”, but we know that, collectively and individually, we are about more than that.
If you joined up with World Laughter Tour or any of the myriad related interest groups, you bought a ticket to jump aboard a moving train because you thought you knew and liked where it was going. Is your vision the same as it was when you started or has it changed? If so, how has it changed? Have you changed? How?
Let’s see if we can start a wide-ranging brainstorm of where “laughter and humor” might be going. Call it a dream, or a plan, or a vision, a conversation, or a hope. Whatever word or phrase works for you to conjure an idea or as many ideas as you like.

These Rules of Brainstorming will apply:
Anyone who reads this blog may contribute any ideas you have as they come to mind.
All of the ideas will be archived.

In order to allow us to generate as many ideas as possible, there must be no fear of criticism.  These ideas will NOT be discussed, rated, debated, evaluated, or judged until such time, if ever, that we decide to prioritize or otherwise rate them, for example, for implementation. Evaluative comments will not be forwarded. We are merely inputting ideas for each other to consider.
“Positive Piggy-backing”, or adding onto the ideas of others is OK (in fact, it is encouraged), but not put-downs.
Repetition is OK. Dreaming is OK. Conjecture is OK. Hoping is OK. Wishing is OK. Hunches are OK.
"Wild" or "outrageous" or "off-the-wall" and even “what if” ideas are acceptable (they just may spark other ideas that lead to more hopes and dreams).
Periods of silence are OK. This look to the future may go on for a long time, with anyone jumping in whenever they have an idea.
Flights of fancy are acceptable.
Looking back and looking ahead what possibilities do you see?


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Humor, Laughter, Personal Power, and Peace

The mission of World Laughter Tour, Inc., is a statement of vision, hope, and purpose:
"Together, we can lead the world to health, happiness, and peace, through laughter."
We have the power to bring love, laughter and humor into our lives.
We have the power to be kind.
We have the power to be sane.
We have the power to be the change we want to see.
This blog post is an attempt to continue understanding the human condition with a conversation to explore the connections between humor, laughter, power, and peace. There is much more to be said on the topic than can be written here; that's why the last word is etcetera. There are more conversations to be had, and much that we need to understand. I hope this will be the start of a contribution to this understanding.

I am grateful to one of my most brilliant teachers, Dr. William F. Fry, Jr., who has written eloquently about the history of humor being so feared by some of the most the powerful leaders of nations that they went to great lengths to severely suppress it. (I saw that a few years ago in Venezuela under Chavez.)

 "No person can be truly at peace with himself if he does not live up to his moral capacity."Norman Cousins (1915-1990)
Many of us who love and appreciate humor feel a special admiration and gratitude for Norman Cousins. World Laughter Tour is deeply rooted to Cousins, a man for whom Wikipedia provides a one-sentence summary, telling us that he was "an American political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate." Few people realize how prolific he was as a writer, and how passionate he was about peace and ending war. Speaking in a 1987 interview about his book, "The Pathology of Power," you can hear him expound on a part of his vision for achieving peace. Listen as he reads his First Principles for Peace.


Humor and laughter have the power to help or to hurt; to lift people up or tear people down; to bring people together by showing us what we have in common, or to divide us by emphasizing our differences. Properly applied, humor has healing power. According to Allen Klein, a pioneer in the therapeutic humor movement, "Humor can help you cope with the unbearable so that you can stay on the bright side of things until the bright side actually comes along."

Toxic situations arise when humor is misused. Zingers, insults, and put-downs can be wielded by a “hostile humor tyrant” who hurts someone’s feelings and then denies responsibility by claiming, paradoxically, that it was only a joke.

Abuse results from one person taking undue advantage, for selfish benefit, of their power over another person**.

"I was only kidding."

Unresolved paradoxes lead to quandaries, befuddlement, confusion, uncertainty, and maybe a headache. These states of mind are not particularly conducive to mirth, humor or laughter.
Philosophical paradox.
Practical paradox.
To the extent that you can understand, resolve, and accept paradoxes, you will be better able to recognize and deal with toxic humor, and then make better choices about the humor you choose to use with others. Joel Goodman, founder of The Humor Project, says, “Laughter should be humor made from pain, not pain inflicted by humor.” An African proverb on the topic of hurtful words reminds us, “The axe forgets, but the tree remembers.”

An old, pun-riddle defines a paradox as two physicians. (A pair-of-docs. Get it?) The dictionary definition of paradox is: a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.

A wry definition of maturity is the power to do whatever you want even if your parents are in favor of it. The dictionary definition of power is: (1) ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something. (2) great or marked ability to do or act; strength; might; force. (3) the possession of control or command over others; authority; ascendancy: i.e., power over men's minds.

To help us understand more about this topic, so that we do a better job of harnessing the positive power of humor and laughter, here is a list of some truths about the paradoxes of power in Sheldon Kopp's*, "Rock, Paper, Scissors" (CompCare Publishers, Minneapolis, 1989).

The Paradoxes of Personal Power

1.         Rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock. Power depends on the situation.
2.         Everyone has dreams of triumph and fantasias of humiliation.
3.         No matter how powerful we are, or think we are, some people are stronger.
4.         However powerless we may feel, others are weaker.
5.         Sometimes life is so out of control that there is nothing we can do to make things right.
6.         Self-esteem based on feeling powerful is weak.
7.         Be confident that you will continue to make mistakes.
8.         Whether we have too much or too little, power is always a problem.
9.         The excessive use of power may ruin what you set out to improve.
10.       The freedom to do as you please is one kind of power.
11.       Coping with helplessness is another.
12.       We must give up trying to control others.
13.       Inner power comes from loving others, not from being loved.
14.       We must temper appreciation for power when we have it with respect for others when they don't.            
15.       We must learn to take responsibility for both our power and our helplessness. It sounds simple; but it isn't easy!
16.       It takes one kind of courage to wait patiently and another to get on with it.
17.       In our right pocket we need to keep one reminder: "For my sake, God created the universe,” and another in our left pocket: "I am dust and ashes."
18. There is no way for any of us to be totally on top of every aspect of our lives.
19.       We will only succeed some of the time. The only thing we can do is keep trying.
20.       No one is ever totally safe from harm.
21.       Willingness to risk can bring rewards we can't get otherwise.
22.       If we choose to run scared, our capacity for love is limited.
23.       Timid lives are very dull.
24.       If we learn to tell false alarms from real ones, we can decide which risks are worth taking.
25.       When we deal with fear, the way out is in.
26.       Without trust, we can't accept the intimacy of gently holding an other's trembling heart in our hands, or placing ours in theirs.
27.       We're all helpless when it comes to predicting what will happen next.
28.       None of us feels safe being completely open.
29.       If no one knows you, who can love you?
30.       Denial increases the dangers of what we fear.
31.       Too often we form negative attachments rather than face the fear of being alone.
32.       Inner power has less to do with pleasing others than it does with doing as we please.
33.       Defying or complying with authority has nothing to do with living freely.
34.       We don't have the power to make someone love us.
35.       Laughter is the sound of freedom.
36.       Sometimes there's nothing we can do but wait.
37.       We will all be fools at times. When we accept that, our imagination opens to possibilities we were once too wise to consider.
38.       If it's not one thing, it's another.
39.       Life is not a matter to be managed.
40.       A person can't do what can't be done.
41.       Like Life, Death makes fools of us all.
42.       None of us can afford to miss the opportunities for the freedom to take charge of ourselves and to laugh and enjoy what we can.
43.       However well we may prepare, the moment belongs to God.

If you like this thought-provoking values-clarifying list, you might also like Kopp's 43-item Eschatological Laundry List, from 'If you Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him'. It begins with:
1. This is it.
2. There are no hidden meanings.
3. You can't get there from here, and besides there is no place to go.

*Sheldon Kopp (29 March 1929 – 29 March 1999) was a psychotherapist and author, based in Washington, D.C., who wrote about self-esteem. He was born in New York City, and received his PhD from the New School for Social Research. In addition to his private practice, he served as a Psychotherapy Supervisor for the Pastoral Counselling and Consultation Centres in Washington. He was a prolific writer. Kopp is author of many fine books including "If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him!", and "Raise Your Right Hand Against Fear, Extend The Other In Compassion". He is also popular for his quotes. One of them is, "All of the significant battles are waged within the self." 
**My book, "Super Humor Power" presents 79 of the most-often cited guidelines about what you need to know, think about, and do, to have positive non-toxic-humor in your life.

Etc. (...and there is more.)

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of the issues covered herein. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. 107, the material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in reading the information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.