What Does Laughter Have to Do with Great Leadership?
From Lincoln to Gandhi, Einstein to Nancy Pelosi, and Winston Churchill to Barack Obama, great leaders share a trait that is often overlooked – a sense of humour.
I recently interviewed Dr. Teruni Lamberg on my podcast Laugh Long and Prosper. Dr. Lamberg is an associate professor of mathematics education at the University of Nevada. She holds a doctorate in mathematics education from Arizona State University and a Post Doctorate from Vanderbilt University.
Dr. Lamberg has been a college professor for over 17 years.
Dr. Lamberg discovered that humour separates superior leaders from lackluster and/or boring ones! A funny bone! A haha when things are not so funny. A prolific author and speaker, and a leading learning expert, Dr. Teruni Lamberg extensively researched this topic for her seminars and book Leaders Who Lead Successfully. She shares her innovating ideas on leading, motivating, and aligning project teams.
Dr. Lamberg and I talked about humour and leadership. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Judy: Time and time again, humour has been an overlooked common denominator when looking at great leaders throughout history. Thank you for coming on the show.
Dr. Lamberg: I’m glad to be here. It’s nice to know that you are a humourist as well.
Judy: I knew the power of humour a long time ago. I see it in individuals, comedy clubs and workplaces, but I was really intrigued by your research that confirmed how necessary humour is when it comes to leadership. Some of the examples that you gave were incredible. Can you share them with our listeners?
Dr. Lamberg: It actually happened accidently. I was working on a state wide project with teachers. One day it dawned on me as we were laughing together and bantering back and forth. I remember turning to my colleague and saying, “We know that we are productive when we laugh and when there is playful banter. How do we quantify this?”
I think one of the things with humour is that it puts people at ease. But it has to be natural.
I’ve been to places where people try to be funny but they’re not. When humour comes naturally, it gets people to interact. For example, including humour in a PowerPoint when starting the day. My colleagues played a joke on me. Apparently, I can’t park. I thought I was good at driving (laugh). But they ended up doing a documentary about my parking. Everybody was laughing. With that, we were then able to get into more complex things. Subtly, we were able to join together. When you create humour, you are also creating relationships and a level of comfort. You can’t laugh if you’re not comfortable.
What I found in my leadership research is that an innovative leader – a leader who motivates people – knows how to make people feel comfortable. They know how to create an environment where people feel welcomed to sit at the table and discuss their ideas.
Judy: When you are dealing with really complex issues, you need people to sit back, relax and take a deep breath. Laughter has that effect.
Dr. Lamberg: Yes, I actually interviewed a lot of famous researchers. How do ordinary people do extraordinary things in their work with their teams? Their teams actually changed things nationally and internationally in terms of research. One researcher from UCLA mentioned that they would have a retreat with all the graduating students and faculty members and they would cook together. As they cooked together, they were laughing and joking. As this was taking place, they were also brainstorming because they were relaxed. They were creating innovative connections. I was wondering how to generate innovative ideas and how do you do that in teams?
Judy: Indeed. Not only is laughter bonding but it’s contagious and it helps us cut through so many social barriers when we laugh with someone.
Dr. Lamberg: Yes, if you walk into a room and nobody is laughing and it looks really tense, chances are you’re going to have a harder time getting things done. Of course, there are times when you have to focus.
Humour is generated when there are relationships between people. You’re not going to tease somebody or crack a joke if you don’t feel comfortable with that person.
Whether you’re running a meeting or putting a team together, you really should think about what it takes to create an environment that makes people feel comfortable.
I notice, Judy, that you do a lot of work with mindfulness. Like mindfulness, humour helps you catch your breath. Can you tell me a little bit about mindfulness? I think it’s interesting to connect humour with that.
Judy: Well, what I always say to my audiences is, “When we laugh, we relax. When we relax, we learn.”
I teach stand-up comedy. I notice that a lot of new students panic when they first start the course. Their ‘fight or flight’ response naturally forces their brain to go into ‘survival mode’ or, in other words, their left logical brain. I need them to get to their right-brain, bright, creative side to make connections between various random subjects and then find the funny. So, I found that by doing improv along with mindfulness and meditation exercises, those students were more relaxed afterwards and thus, more open to create.
Dr. Lamberg, I noticed in your leadership studies that humour came up over and over again.
It doesn’t surprise me that whether it’s on the stage or in the boardroom, humour is a wonderful leadership tool that quite frankly, I don’t think we use enough.
Dr. Lamberg: You made a really interesting point. In comedy, you try to make connections between different ideas. That’s really what creativity is all about- the ability to see patterns and make connections. Sometimes those connections happen when you are in a state of flow and your brain is relaxed. It allows you to think outside the box. As opposed to when you are trying to force yourself to think.
Also, when you have a group of people together, not everybody feels the same level of power.
You’re a professor and someone else thinks, well I have don’t have a PhD so I don’t have something to say. But I think it’s about just getting people comfortable and developing that relationship. I think that humour allows everyone to put themselves on a similar level where they can share their stories. A sense of humour allows us to be more human.
Judy: It’s funny that you talk about taking away those levels of power.
On one of my previous podcasts, I was interviewing a Danish friend about a tradition in Denmark called hygge. Part of hygge (which roughly translates to the word ‘cosiness’) is a sense of community. The average Dane belongs to three associations. Those gatherings allow people of various occupations, ages, gender, experience to play a game and/or engage on the same level. People discover what they have in common. As a result, they get an opportunity to think freely and collaborate.
Dr. Lamberg: Everybody has something of value to contribute. Everybody in the room has life experiences, work experiences or just different perspectives. They are able to think outside the box because they are not clouded by some particular lens.
My research showed that the leaders who were really successful talked about being able to take in different voices and opinions. Sometimes, during informal gatherings (like the cooking class or a coffee break), someone might suddenly say, ‘Oh that’s a good idea. I need to go back and write that down’.
Humour creates relationships and creates the environment to be comfortable. If you’re comfortable, then you are relaxed and you have a greater chance for deeper thinking and making connections between ideas.
Judy: I was doing a virtual presentation for a group last month and they were giving out leadership awards. The awards weren’t based on seniority or years served but they were strictly based on good ideas. If you brought a good idea to the table (e.g., Frank from IT showed us a neat little trick on our computers to save time) then Frank got an award.
Good ideas are good ideas no matter who they come from.
Dr. Lamberg: Humour comes with building a community – an identity for a company. It makes people feel like they are part of the group. Humour is the glue that holds people together.
Judy: Humour is part of our caveman brain. We want to belong to the clan. Humour is a way of showing our open hand. “Look, I don’t have any weapons. I’m making a joke about myself. I’m showing my vulnerability. I’m not going to hurt you. Let’s work together.”
I’ve always believed that humour is a sign of leadership.
When a problem or a crisis arises, everybody else in the group freaks out but it’s the true leader who can find hope, happiness or laughter to get their team through those dark times. They keep moving forward.
Dr. Lamberg: Think of the flip side to that. At the end of a long hard day, petty things become more important. Humour humanizes the situation.
We need humour, especially now. It brings joy no matter what you’re doing.
Judy: Dr. Lamberg, before I let you go, what were some of the other qualities of good leadership that you found in your studies?
Dr. Lamberg: Passion, aligning actions with higher purpose (in other words, walking the talk), integrity, and the ability to motivate others or to communicate an idea by painting a picture or using humour.
I think in order to use humour, you really have to observe what is going on in the room. In fact, the times that I laugh the most are when someone notices the humour in everyday things. I think that is much harder to pull off.
Judy: I love observational humour. It’s like problem solving. It’s looking at the same situation as everybody else and finding the solution – finding the connection between A and B with a punchline. Dr. Lamberg, thank you for joining me. It’s been my absolute pleasure.
Dr. Lamberg: Thank you, Judy.
Judy: If you would like to reach Dr. Lamberg, here is her contact info.
Website: Optimized Learning
Don’t be shy. You can check out my Laugh Long and Prosper podcast on Spotify or Soundcloud.
Laugh Long and Prosper is shelf help with a smile, stressbusters with a smirk, and information with a wink wink. You get the point. On Mondays, I host the podcast Just Another Mindful Monday. The full podcast interview with Dr. Lamberg aired Monday April 5th 2021 and is available here.
Until next time folks,
Don’t be shy. You can check out my Laugh Long and Prosper
podcast on Spotify
‘Laugh Long and Prosper’ is shelf help with a smile, stressbusters with a smirk, and information with a wink wink. You get the point. On Mondays, I host the podcast Just Another Mindful Monday. Recently, I interviewed a dear friend of mine named Heidi Petersen.
Heidi lives here in Toronto but she has over one hundred relatives covering three generations back home in Denmark.
I wanted to talk to Heidi because I had read two books last month: The Year Of Living Danishly and The Little Book of Hygge. To find out exactly what ‘hygge’ is, here are a few excerpts from our chat together.
Judy: Heidi, welcome to the show. I wanted to interview you because I know that you also read two books that I love – The Year of Living Danishly and The Little Book of Hygge. According to an annual UN study, Denmark is regularly listed as one of the happiest places in the world. Canada is usually in the top ten, as well, but what makes Denmark unique is something that they embrace called ‘hygge’. I thought that with Covid continuing on for another year, what better time to talk about this incredible Danish super power? Perhaps we here in North America can draw from it.
Heidi, does the English word ‘hug’ come from the Danish word ‘hygge’?
Heidi: Yes, ‘hug’ is derived from ‘hygge’!
Judy: Heidi, for folks who haven’t heard of ‘hygge’, can you explain what it is?
Heidi: Sure! It’s actually a Danish concept. It’s a state, a mood, a coziness, comfort, feelings of contentment, being kind to yourself and others, self-care and self-love. It’s sort of derived from all of those things. But it also encompasses the idea of family and community. Doing things that make you feel happy – just being in your happy place.
Judy: I noticed in one of the books that they were talking about a ‘hygge kit’ that you should have ready when you come home from work, especially if you are feeling cold and damp.
The kit should include things like tea, candles, chocolate, woolen socks, books, a notebook, etc.
In other words, whatever you feel like. The author said that when you return home, you should crawl into your ‘hygge krog’ or cozy corner and get down to some serious ‘hygge’.
Heidi: Haha, yes, and keep in mind that ‘hygge’ is different for everyone. I know for myself (Judy, I know that you are also a big dog lover) but my dogs are part of my ‘hygge’. ‘Hygge’ also includes lighting, candles and texture. A nice chai latte or a glass of wine doesn’t hurt either.
Judy: It’s funny that you say that about lighting because according to a recent statistic, the average Dane burns thirteen pounds of wax, per year. Like you said, it’s all about the coziness – cozy corners with fun lighting, blankets and cushions.
I don’t know if this is part of ‘hygge’ but, according to research, the average work week in Denmark is 34-37 hours. The Danish attitude is if you can’t get IT done in that window, then you aren’t working efficiently enough. Haha.
Heidi: Yes, Danes work very hard during that time frame but we also play hard. Every Danish employee is entitled to five weeks of paid vacation per year. Danes are also very family- oriented. They take a lot of family vacations. Whether you have kids or not, it’s about spending quality time with your loved ones.
Judy: Speaking of family, the books also mention that if you have a baby, you get one year of maternity leave and you can split that time however you want between the two parents.
Heidi: As a result, many Danish couples share the responsibility of raising their children.
Judy: It’s funny because when we think of Danes, we think of pillaging Vikings. How did ‘hygge’ come out of all of that bloodshed?
Heidi: (laughs) I guess we evolved. Haha
Judy: How did we get to throw cushions?
Heidi: (laughs) It’s the Ying and the Yang.
Judy: It’s easy enough to adopt some of the ‘hygge’ traditions alone but I also read that ‘hygge’
includes a real sense of community and reaching out to others. In fact, the average Dane belongs to three clubs and/or associations. It’s almost like a group hug or ‘hygge’. So how are Danes managing with Covid when we are supposed to be isolating?
Heidi: It’s difficult. We have been doing a lot of Face Timing. However, because we are used to spending so much family time together in Denmark (now virtually), it’s easier to adapt. In fact, I notice that more North Americans are starting to grasp the Scandinavian concept of how cool it is to socialize!
Judy: So, while many of us here in North America are suffering from the ‘Zoomies’ ( dreading Zoom calls with our loved ones because we already spend so much time on work calls), I encourage our listeners to keep the dialogue going with their family, friends and individuals. Especially during these Covid times. Keep it going, folks. We will get through this together.
If your family feels more like an episode of ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ than ‘This Is Us’, have no fear. Persevere. Continue to reach out. Someone you know just might need a ‘hygge’.
Heidi, thank you so much for joining me on the show. Until next time… Laugh Long and Prosper.
Jim Ducharme, my courageous friend, recently joined me on my weekly podcast.
Jim has been diagnosed with a brain tumour. He isn’t sure how much time he has left, so he asked me to help him share his message about life, hope, purpose and love.
We always said we would do a podcast together. I’m so sad that this is it. As a lot of us face the great ‘unknown’ with Covid, Jim KNOWS what his fate it. The interview is part of his message.
Jim is also an accomplished writer. I share one of his stories below.
Please send love, good vibes and prayers Jim’s way.
Judy: Hi there, I’m Judy Croon. Welcome to another episode of Laugh Long and Prosper.
This is going to be a different episode.
Some difficult situations (for example, Covid, our recent city shutdown, unemployment, etc.) really test our strengths and our touchstones, like humour and gratitude. I think this show will explain itself.
My guest today is my good friend, Jim Ducharme. Jim and I go way back -back to radio days on the Mix when I was co-hosting the morning show and Jim was the mastermind producer behind the scenes. Jim seemed like a grouchy individual but he actually has a great sense of humour.
Jim has that self-deprecating humour that I love so much in other people, especially when times are stressful. Especially when times are low.
If you were going to make a joke about Jim, Jim would make it about himself first.
When I was at the Mix, Jim not only helped me build my website but he showed me how to run it myself probably so I wouldn’t bother him every two minutes. However, he knew how important it was to learn how to handle your own social media and he wanted to share that knowledge with me. I will forever be grateful to Jim for that.
While at the station, I created a fundraiser called Laughlines for breast cancer research.
Jim was the first person to volunteer. He said he would handle the social media for the event.
Over six years and with the help of many individuals, including Jim, we raised over $650,000 for breast cancer research.
Throughout the years, Jim’s knowledge and friendship have been invaluable.
Jim: Please don’t give me too much credit. Learning is great but teaching is better. Certainly, the situation that I’m in could be a lot better but do you want me to talk about this now?
Judy: Absolutely. It’s your show my friend. We always wanted to do a podcast together. I’m only sorry that this is the reason that we are doing it today. For people out there who are saying, “I can’t handle Covid. I can’t handle not being able to pay my bills! “I say, please listen to Jim’s story. This will give you strength. This will give you perspective.
Jim: Well, I will keep it short then. I hope that everyone had a great Christmas. My biggest concern is that you remember it because I don’t. I remember very little of it. Thanks to my ex-wife, the police came by the house and realized that there was a problem and took me to the hospital. I spent nearly a month in there over Christmas- missing Christmas day with my daughter. I have a brain tumour.
It is probably the worst kind of cancer that is out there and it decided to make a home in my head. I wouldn’t have minded if it had decided to take a basement room but it didn’t. It decided to move into the penthouse and that’s the worse damn place that it can go.
Time is irrelevant. When you’re sick like I am right now, time is extremely irrelevant and so is your ground. The worst part of this disease up until now, aside from the hammering that goes on in my head, is that I feel like I’m walking on very mushy sand. It’s unbalanced on either side of me.
Yesterday, I took a tumble down the stairs. There are literally claw marks in the paint from where I grabbed the ledge, so I was obviously under the impression at the time that it was a bad, bad thing.
This morning, I needed to walk my daughter back to her mother’s house and I had my walker. I could only get her so far so I stood on the top of the street and made sure that she got into her mother’s house okay. But it was another moment where I wanted to punch something.
It’s funny- maybe because someone said to me yesterday, “You made this investment Jim, (without knowing it) by being a decent human being. Now it’s coming back to pay off and it’s wonderful. “(I think what Jim’s friend meant here was that because Jim is a good guy- many people are rallying to help him.)
My father did a lot of good for the community. There were hundreds and hundreds of people at his funeral but he didn’t see them.
I don’t plan on having any big kind of funeral or anything. My friend and I have discussed what my final wishes are and she’s prepared to take care of them.
I don’t want to freak anybody else out but my actual plan is to have my ashes scattered in small bits in sugar containers in restaurants so that I can always be with you.
Jim: Look, I’ve had my moments. I knew that there were going to be hard moments.
Yesterday was a hard day but having said that, I’m almost sixty years-old. Am I going to complain about ten to twenty years? Do I want to sit here and feel sorry for myself?
Am I going to feel worse for myself than a friend who has known me for 30-40 years, who’s literally losing it because what is happening to me? How can I feel worse about it? They will have time when they have to deal with it. Me? I’m going to have a few bad weeks and then everything is going to go mushy dark.
Then I have that wonderful option if I want to haunt the crap out of people who have been jerks to me and I’m perfectly capable if I have to.
The most important thing in this situation is the conversation that we are having right here. Your friends are everything. My uncle was not a very nice man. He was a very stingy man and he was a rich man and he didn’t have a very good end because of that.
Judy: First of all, we don’t have a crystal ball. I know that we wish for a miracle. Do you know approximately how much time you have and what do you want to do with that time?
Jim: I have an idea what my time is. When doctors give you averages about stuff like that -they give you statistics. But it’s not about the time. Time is a bag and it matters what you stuff into it.
Sure, I could have but if I had spent my entire life saying I’ll never get cancer, I’ll never get cancer and certainly not in the brain, that wouldn’t have protected me from this.
We were in a darkened hospital room and the nurse looked me in the eye and said, “You didn’t do this. You didn’t put this there. Nothing you did, did this.”
By the way, God bless nurses and nurse practitioners. If you don’t think that they are saving our asses every damn day and putting their own at risk, then you are completely out of it.
They don’t have enough doctors to be in there to talk to you about this stuff.
It was the nurses that stepped up when they could for the most part.
If you would like to listen to the rest of Jim’s interview, again you can click on the following Jim’s interview
During the interview, I shared one of Jim’s stories. I think it’s beautiful.
A great blue heron swoops in a slow arc just above the water and then silently lands on the dock in front of me. The bird pays little attention and goes straight to work fishing. Just hours earlier, as I floated with my daughter on the lake, a family of ducks swam right by us with nary a worry. For years I’ve been coming to my best friend’s cottage in Quebec with the hope of renewal, and this is the first year I’ve come here happy and allowed myself to relax — it’s beautiful. Most writers dream of a secluded lakefront cottage to create their masterpiece, and most of us end up writing it in a Starbucks. Yes, I know I’m lucky.
In this setting, just an hour north of Ottawa, my daily waypoints consist of swims in clean lake water, relaxing conversation, and a lot of summer fun with my ten-year-old daughter. Bird calls instead of traffic sounds and a sky full of stars instead of street lights. When you consider the kind of monotony most of us deal with day in day out, you can understand why people go to the trouble and expense to purchase and maintain a cottage. I’m blessed to have a friend who welcomes myself and my daughter here one week each summer.
A beautiful relaxed existence, the kind of therapeutic oasis that should be able to set anyone back on the tracks, and yet, this is the first time I’ve really and truly relaxed and enjoyed myself here in years. The very first day here, my ten-year-old child’s joyful laughter echoed around the gentle hills as we floated and played in the lake. She had a raft, and at one point, she suggested we recreate the iconic final scene from the movie Titanic.
“Oh, how do we do that?” I asked.
“You lift me on the raft, and then you sink to the bottom of the lake,” she replied.
I only managed to sink halfway, but it was a pretty epic romantic scene — a moment I couldn’t have shared with her just a year ago. I couldn’t have had that special moment, that perfect moment, because I felt like a cat tossed into a black sack – panicking, alone, terrified of what might happen next.
As I sit here by a glacial surrounded by pine covered granite hills, it’s a little like reaching an emotional higher ground, where you have a better perspective on your journey and the experiences, good and bad that have been a part of that journey.
I know depression, and I know trauma. Both have been a part of my adventure and at times, my only companions on long nights.
When the 13-year marriage to the only love of my life ended, my world crumbled. The ensuing custody battle over my young daughter almost destroyed me and sent me into three years of dark, desperate depression and anxiety. The only reason I found for going on was my ten-year-old warrior princess — she never lost faith in her daddy — even when he had.
Jim doesn’t have a lot of wishes right now. He is obviously concerned the most about his daughter. One of his internet friends was kind enough to set up a GoFundMe page. As stated on the page, ‘Unfortunately, Jim’s expenses are piling up and worrying about bills at a time like this is something nobody should have to go through. So for that reason, we’re putting together this GoFundMe to help ease the burden and give Jim as much quality time with his family and friends as possible.’
Aside from Jim’s daughter, he is very concerned about getting a message out to the nurses at Princess Margaret Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital. I know he has purchased coffee and donuts for them multiple times but he is at a loss how to thank each and every one of them for what they have done. Understandably, Jim’s brain isn’t as sharp as it used to be so he doesn’t remember names. He’s sad that he can’t thank them enough. Aside from his daughter, they are his warrior princesses and princes right now. If you see a nurse or frontline worker, please thank them on Jim’s behalf.
Thank you, Jim, for reminding us what is truly important in life; friends, family, love and laughter and NOW.
Laugh Long and Prosper my dear friend.
I don’t know what was scarier in 2020…Donald Trump or Covid.
Certainly, both of them have had me cowering in my house for a few months at the beginning of the year.
But then I felt inspired by Joe Biden: the little engine that could.
Slowly but surely, his campaign started to gain traction throughout the year and lo and behold, he and Kamala Harris won the US Election.
I felt inspired by Joe Biden for many reasons. His old-school talk about having ‘steel in your spine’ made me want to strike a Rosie the Riveter pose and start saving kittens out of trees.
I was also inspired by ‘The Joe Biden Jog’. You know the jog -the five or six little steps that Joe does just as he’s about to take the podium. I now do the ‘Joe Biden Jog’ myself whenever I’m on one of my slow daily walks and I think someone might be looking.
As 2020 progressed, I started to get mad at 2020. To hell with you, 2020.
As Covid raged on, I metamorphized from coward to full- blown ‘Snakes on a Plane’ Samuel Jackson. “That mother ##%$^^&ing 2020 is not going to get the best of me.”
I joined millions of humans around the world as we adapted to the ‘new normal’ by masking up, Zooming, home schooling, isolating, sanitizing and maintaining a responsible six-foot distance from others. That’s right, Winston Churchill would have been proud of us! Okay, maybe we weren’t fighting in the streets with sticks and brooms but, when it comes to watching TV, no other generation can hold a candle to us. Fourteen hours of binge-watching The Crown? Child’s play. Not even a blink or a bathroom break. Hulu- come at me.
I don’t know about you, but I can watch the most obscure, fragmented channel for days. Have you seen ‘Estonia’s Next Baking Star’ on the Umlaut Network? For a monthly subscription of only $6.99, I can assure you that it’s a bargain at twice the price.
Of course, Christmas 2020 was different because of Covid. It was smaller and quieter. I notice that most of my Christmas gifts were chocolates, pajamas and books. Otherwise known as ‘Covid Gear’ or the 92-year-old Grandmother Starter Kit. Either way, I don’t mind! Bring on the comfort and cosiness.
I stayed with my dad this Christmas. We had a great time catching up. One minor observation- could the TV be any louder?
I’m sure even the neighbours know that the mystery on Oak Island is that there isn’t any treasure.
All joking aside, I will take the good lessons from 2020 and keep moving forward.
Family, friends, charity, gratitude and ‘Murder She Wrote’ are just some of the touchstones that have helped me to, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’- as Winston Churchill would say.
Hang in there folks, it’s going to get better. We just have to be patient.
Laugh Long and Prosper.
By the way, in case you missed the most recent episodes of my podcast ‘Laugh Long and Prosper’ -you can check them out here.
Laugh Long and Prosper: Psychic Friday – Friday January 1, 2021- Predictions for the year 2021 with Psychic Nikki
Laugh Long and Prosper -Monday Dec 21 2020 Just Another Mindful Monday with Meditation Coach Cara Coulson Part Two
Laugh Long and Prosper – Monday Dec 7 2020 – Just Another Mindful Monday with Meditation Coach Cara Coulson Part One
- Let’s face it. It’s been a challenging year.
Covid has forced us to mask up, distance and sanitize our hands until they are raw.
We’ve had to isolate, bubble and some of us have had to learn so much new technology, we could probably talk Apollo 13 down.
We’ve faced more ZOOM meetings that we care to think about.
Thank goodness for the front line and essential workers who have done everything to keep the rest of us safe. Without them, we would be lost -or worse.
Compared to other global catastrophes – war, earthquakes, tsunamis- Covid asked the majority of us to do one thing: stay home. Watching Netflix is not a hardship. It has brought us gems like the latest season of the Crown, and of course, the Queen’s Gambit. If you haven’t seen The Queen’s Gambit, may I say it has renewed my passion for tranquillizers. I mean chess. I’m not good at chess. I have to take a nap after four moves, but this mini-series has inspired me to become a better player as well as, step up my wardrobe game!
Netflix was one of the ways that I got through Covid.
I also read a tremendous amount. Three books changed my perspective about the future (and it does look good). You might have read about them in my past blogs- Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress by Steven Pinker and Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling.
Purpose also got me through Covid. A few years ago, I joined an amazing local organization here in Toronto called City Street Outreach. Spearheaded by husband and wife, Alex and Grace, City Street Outreach makes it their mission to feed and clothe Toronto’s homeless and most needy. Covid gave me more time to help them. I’m also grateful to family, friends, friends of friends and strangers who chipped in food, clothing, dry goods, time and tax-deductible donations to this worthy cause.
Finally, laughter got me through Covid and the US elections.
I shared virtual laughter with friends, family, clients and strangers. Experts say that humour and fear are closely linked in our brain. Many times, when we face the unknown, we laugh. Humour is not only a release but it’s also a way of making sense and making fun of the unknown. Covid still remains a huge unknown.
I have been blessed to have some very funny people around me. They make me laugh at times when the only other option is to pour a glass of red wine and cry endlessly into my Viggo Mortensen satin pillow.
I have been blessed to turn ‘the funny’ into a career and get a chance to share it with others; whether it be through stand-up comedy or motivational speaking. Now, I would like to share the gift of humour this holiday season. If you or someone you know needs to share their humour, feel free to check out my virtual comedy course entitled Stand Up In Ten Steps.
I leave no comic behind. Everyone is funny, even the seemingly most boring people because they usually have a dark side! Whether you are a comedian, a speaker, or someone who just wants to take a fun course, join me. While sharing a laugh, you’ll also get to help someone in need- 25% of proceeds will be donated to City Street Outreach.
Happy Holidays. Stay Safe.
I know…not exactly the most hilarious, side-splitting way to open a conversation or a comedy show, for that matter. Ah, remember the good old days when we used to do comedy shows???
Relax, Chicken Little. I bring some good news, even as I write this after a see-saw US election that still hasn’t been completely resolved. This good news comes in the form of two amazing books that coaxed me out from underneath my comforter and back into the real world.
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress by Canadian psychologist Steven Pinker, and Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Swedish physician and statistician Hans Rosling. Both books are really uplifting and perfect for the challenging times that we are going through.
Maybe it’s all fake news?
I don’t think so. These books are based upon facts. Remember when we used to care about facts? Also, each book comes with a heavy hitter list of endorsements including two people you might have heard of.
‘A hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases.’
‘My new favorite book of all time.’
I’m no Barack Obama or Bill Gates, but my Goldendoodle Barnie thinks I’m pretty swell.
I give 10/10 to both books, too!
Okay, great, so Barnie loves you. What are some takeaways from Factfulness?
Facts! Lots of good facts!
-In the past 20 years, extreme poverty has been cut in half.
-60 percent of girls in low-income countries finish public school.
-80 percent of 1 year-olds in the world have been vaccinated against certain types of disease.
What are some takeaways from Enlightenment Now?
Again, lots of solid facts. For example, we are fighting world famine.
In 1973, just forty-seven years ago, one-third of the world was malnourished.
Today, because of advances in science and agriculture, that percentage is down to 13 percent and scientists are working to bring that statistic down even further.
Did you know that just 150 years ago, people starved to death in Sweden because winter was so long? In 1820, 90 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty, but trade encouraged countries to put differences aside.
Globally, there is more wealth and less inequality.
Globalization and technology are helping more countries get wealthier.
The wealthier a country is, the more likely it is to spend on social programs.
The wealthier a country is, the more unlikely it is to be influenced by militant groups.
What about climate change?
Both books state that developments in science and technology are pushing us to get our carbon dioxide emissions cut in half by 2050 and eliminated by 2100.
What about the current political climate – especially, you know where?
Political ‘glitches’ happen every now and then throughout history but hopefully, a growing number of young, educated, more tolerant voters will help make the world a better place in the future. It may not be happening fast enough for most of us who couldn’t peel ourselves away from the TV set on November 3rd, but the demographics are changing.
What about Covid?
Oh yeah, that. Well, researchers are working around the globe and the clock.
As a planet, we have faced many challenges in the past, including war, disease, natural disasters, and political upheavals, just to name a few. But as the facts have shown us over and over again (see my last blog Humankind by Rutger Bregman) the worst actually brings out the best in most humans. It’s better to bet with clan than against it. Sometimes, when things get really, really dark, we laugh with the clan. It helps to stop us from freezing in fear and it keeps us moving forward. We laugh, we learn, we overcome, we do better.
Until we discover a vaccine for Covid, continue practicing the three W’s:
-Wash your hands
-Watch your distance
-Shop at Walmart
-Wear a mask
And don’t forget to laugh. I had the pleasure of working with Monty Python’ John Cleese a few years back. The man is brilliant and obviously hysterical. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from him:
‘Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy.’
Until next month,
Humankind by Rutger Bregman: Part Two
A few more examples to show you just how awesome humans really are.
Covid, the economy, the un-presidential debate, Tiger King’s Carole Baskin competing on Dancing With The Stars – there is certainly a lot of frightening news lately. Are things just getting worse?? Last month, I reviewed the book Humankind by Rutger Bregman. It gave me hope. Bregman provided examples throughout history that proved the awesomeness of humans in times of distress. If you’ve got six and a half months of Zoom, mask, and sanitizer burn-out, perhaps a few more of the author’s stories will help lift your spirits.
During grade school, you were probably asked to read William Golding’s Lord of The Flies. It is the story about a group of boys stranded on an island. Over a period of time, they end up turning on each other and supposedly displaying the worst of mankind.
Bregman actually found a real-life Lord of the Flies example in 1966. Six schoolboys from the island of Tonga stole a boat and became shipwrecked on a remote Pacific island for 15 months. Unlike, Lord of The Flies, they did not turn on each other. Instead, they built fires, shared food and they made a pact not to argue. After the rescue, they remained friends for years.
Bregman cites another example of camaraderie over conquest from the first world war, when English and German soldiers defied orders and stopped fighting on Christmas Day. From the trenches, the two sides drank, sang Christmas Carols and exchanged gifts instead of gunfire. Even after they were forced to resume battle, the rival soldiers sent each other secret messages regarding attacks and/or they fired above the enemy lines so as not to cause death or injury.
Contrary to what action movies seem to depict, taking a human life is not easy or natural. Bregman provides a statistic from the Battle of Waterloo. Less than one percent of the injuries inflicted during that battle were injuries from bayonets. This is phenomenal considering that bayonets were attached to tens of thousands of rifles. Bregman says that, even in the face of life-or-death situations, humans avoid violence whenever possible.
Yes, there has been and will continue to be dark glitches in history, but statistics show that it is not the norm to react like barbarians. Humans have stepped up and risked their lives to prove over and over again that no, it is not survival of the fittest. In many cases and as Bregman states, it is survival of the friendliest. It is part of our caveman brain and instinct to want to be part of the clan, not against it.
So, take a deep breath, take the bone out of your hair and smile. If history provides any indication, we are still pretty darn amazing as a race. The majority of us will summon our better sides to get through these challenging pages of the calendar.
Until next time,
Admit it. How many of you got dragged into the virtual presentation world, kicking and screaming? How many of you had nightmares of sweat dripping down your forehead one minute before the green light came on in front of a virtual roomful of clients? How many of you felt like Dave from Space Odyssey 2001?
“HAL, open the pod bay doors!!”
“I’m sorry Judy, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“All right, HAL. I’ll go in through the emergency airlock.”
“Without your space helmet, Judy, you’re going to find that rather difficult.”
Okay, so maybe this was my imagination going overboard.
For the past few years, I have been encouraged by friends and clients to do more video presentations. As a comedian and motivational speaker, I have always enjoyed live presentations and conferences.
In the past, I had been speaking and coaching virtually with some of my clients but then COVID hit. The game changed overnight. There wasn’t an option to do conferences or comedy shows.
So, like many, I was forced to make a choice. Wait it out or go all-in virtually.
I have to admit, the idea of speaking into a green light for an hour was a bit daunting. It was so different. However, I took a lot of inspiration from my two sisters. One is a speech-language pathologist and the other is an elementary school teacher. I was impressed with how they both learned the new technology necessary for their work and adapted, almost overnight. They had never done virtual presentations before. They were motivated by their young students and clients who really needed them to step up.
I don’t think people give themselves enough credit for making such a huge shift in such a relatively short time. They beat themselves up for not ‘getting it’. Luckily, both of my sisters were able to lean on their teenagers to help them navigate the new information asteroid fields. I’m sure there were some eye-rolling and gum-smacking along the way, but those little astronauts stepped up too.
I was proud of my nieces and nephews. All those years spent on Snapchat and Tik Tok (or Tic Tac, as my dad calls it) finally paid off.
So, if my sisters could step up for those that virtually needed them, then so could I.
During my first mission right after COVID, I talked to the green light for an hour and then I said goodbye. The green light went out.
It was just me alone in my pod.
I had no idea how the presentation went over.
It was only afterward when I received some nice comments from the organizers and participants via email and LinkedIn, that I knew that the presentation was a hit. Phew.
My next few presentations were via WebEx. Although WebEx isn’t as user friendly as Zoom, it is apparently more secure and as a result, a common choice for various businesses. Also, if it was good enough for guests on CNN then heck, I thought, it should be good enough for me. I may not be as political or incendiary as some of those talking heads but I bet I could still make Don Lemon laugh.
Since then, the platforms have changed but the work itself remains the same. Whether you are talking into a green light or a roomful of people, be yourself, tell your story, don’t be a HAL, be human and make sure you don’t have any space food on your face.
We’re all on the same ship together. It’s a new world but let’s travel safely.
Don’t get rattled. As HAL might suggest, “Look, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.”
It will be different but we’ll be fine.
Until next time, Laugh Long and Prosper.
Recently, I read a terrific book – Humankind by Rutger Bregman.
Bregman asked, ‘What did Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt have in common?’
They all read a book called The Psychology of the Masses by French author Gustave Le Bon. Le Bon’s main premise is that when all hell breaks loose, humans turn into barbarians. We turn on each other. Chaos is created and as a result, an enemy’s attack is made easier. The flames of fear are good for the oppressor.
Though this ‘survival- of- the- fittest’ mentality may be the case for a small percentage of people, Bregman gives numerous examples throughout history that prove the contrary. His stories and statistics prove that overall, the kids are alright – humans are pretty darn amazing.
Bregman provides the example of the bombing of England during the second World War.
In 1940, Hitler sent 348 Luftwaffe bombers to London. He probably hoped panic and chaos would make the English more vulnerable and easier to overthrow. British authorities worried as well. In anticipation of the panic that war with Germany would create, British authorities built emergency psychiatric wards throughout the country.
Yes, as expected, the bombings were horrific. London alone suffered 40,000 casualties.
However, the psychiatric wards for the most part remained empty.
Churchill encouraged the Brits to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. The English tried to live their lives as normally as possible. The trains continued to run. People shopped. Kids played.
In fact, some people reported feeling psychologically better off than before the bombings started. Suicide rates were down and alcohol abuse decreased.
Why this ‘strange’ reaction in the face of death and fear? As it turned out, average civilians helped each other like they never had before. Hitler’s bombs had the opposite effect – they brought people closer together. Chaos was replaced with camaraderie. Similarly, Bregman describes how so many ‘hardened’ New Yorkers risked their lives to save strangers during that horrific morning of Sept 11th, 2001.
Throughout the ages, contrary to what warlords, dictators and autocrats have and continue to hope for, the worst actually brings out the best in most of us. It is instinctive to choose good. It is safer to be with the clan than against it.
If you need further proof, consider these statistics. According to 700 separate field studies at The Disaster Research Centre in Delaware, the number of murders, thefts and rapes actually decrease in the wake of catastrophe.
So why do we always think the sky is falling?
Fear sells. Left- and right-wing media giants are both guilty.
Bad news is big business.
So, what should we do as we face our recent global ‘attack‘, Covid 19?
Perhaps we should continue to exercise caution, listen to the scientists and, every now and then (and trust me, I’m guilty of this too), turn off CNN. Bye- bye Anderson Cooper.
Keep Calm and Carry On and hey, it doesn’t hurt to crack a smile every now and then.
Until next time, laugh long and prosper.
At the beginning of the year, I started with 12 resolutions – one for each month. Then COVID-19 struck. My journal became more about coping during a pandemic vs a ‘things to do’ blog.
I have to admit that, like everyone else, I freaked out.
Conferences and comedy clubs were shut down. I know this is nothing compared to what a lot of people are dealing with but for me, it was my way of life for many years.
As I faced the abyss of unknowing, a very obvious answer smacked me right in the face. What was I teaching others for years??? ‘Relieving stress with HUMOUR’!!! Uh- should I not take my own advice?? So, I found myself leaning on all the funny people around me. Yes, the humour was dark at times but I know now that that was all part of our right, bright, creative brains trying to get us to calm down.
Laughter is a great way to trigger our right, bright, creative brain and parasympathetic nervous system. Our parasympathetic nervous system is the flight attendant that tells your body to calm the hell down, put your oxygen mask on and breathe as the left brain, sympathetic nervous system pilot tries to land the plane.
We would be nowhere without both of them.
Humour is a great button to hit to ask for help from our flight attendant. So is gratitude. Gratitude also triggers our parasympathetic nervous system.
When we say thank- you to our flight attendant for our free pretzels, we have a better chance of staying in our right, bright, creative brain than when we start screaming about having to pay five bucks for Pringles.
I was in a ‘minor’ automotive altercation this month. My left-brain pilot got me safely to the side of the road. My right- brain flight attendant said, “Stay calm, don’t freak out. Aren’t you grateful that you are safe?”
By staying calm, my right- brain guided me to summon two angels (CAA and my mechanic). Everything worked out and in a couple days, I was back in the pilot’s seat.
Yes, temporarily the skies were dark. Comedy clubs and conferences were shut down.
Again, my right-brain flight attendant said aren’t you grateful that you are safe? Aren’t you grateful for all the work that you’ve had in the past? Also, ma’am, can you please stop crying hysterically and kicking the back of that baby’s chair?
I did all of the above. I stopped crying. I stopped kicking. I expressed gratitude and that baby is part of my act now.
All of the work in the past lead to new and former clients (who were as unsure about the rocky horizon as I was) asking me to bring some relief in the form of my presentation- virtually.
Left brain or right brain, young or old, economy or business class – we always have a choice.
Panic and run through the aisles or put on your mask (which means SO much more nowadays) and breathe and, oh yeah, don’t forget to laugh.
Until next time, I’m your pilot AND flight attendant, Judy Croon.
Laugh long and prosper.