Karyn Buxman

Catching Up With Karyn

Archive for July, 2010

Russian Prosecutors Probe Parasailing Donkey

I stared at the headline in disbelief.  This world offers up many strange things, I know.  You can’t be a nurse for any length of time before you run headfirst into the impossible, the insane, or at least the definitively ill advised.  But here we are, looking at the New York Times, a reasonably well respected journalistic outlet, reading that Russian Prosecutors Probe Parasailing Donkey.

Somewhere, a Times editor is laughing his head off.  Not at the story, which is little more than a questionable marketing stunt that left a donkey dangling above the Azov sea, braying its displeasure as the waves crashed beneath its hooves for half an hour.

It’s the headline itself that’s funny – read it aloud to anyone at random, a colleague, a friend, a stranger on the street – and you’ll get at least a chuckle.  The words are so absurd – the juxtaposition of donkeys and parasailing so unexpected – that the only thing you can do is laugh.

Sometimes, you can’t make this stuff up!
That’s the beauty of humor.  You don’t have to BE funny to SEE funny.  A major part of the effort to integrate humor into your life on a more regular basis – whether you’re doing this as a way to manage stress, increase your physical and emotional health or just have more fun – is learning how to view the world through a selective lens, keeping our eyes open to the things that are (perhaps unintentionally) funny that pop up in everyday life.

There were countless headlines in the Times this week.  What went wrong in the Gulf? What is Goldman Sachs doing to the market now? Are academics seeing the end of the tenure tradition?  All important, worthy questions, worth considering.

But it’s just as important, just as essential for our souls, our well being, our ability to cope with a world of oil spills and investment bankers, that we consider other things as well.  Things that make us laugh.  Things that make our heart delight.  Things that are just too silly to be taken seriously.

When we see Russians Probing Parasailing Donkeys, that’s a gift from the universe – delivered, perhaps, via an editor’s twisted perspective.  Smile.  Laugh.  Give thanks you’re not a donkey.  Recognize the benefits that are part of your existence and go forth with a merry heart to share the joy. Ponder the existence of aviation goggles for donkeys, to be worn with a leather cap and a white scarf knotted around the neck and mane. You don’t have to be funny. You only have to see funny!

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The Legacy of Laughter: Creating Bonds that Last

In the New York Times today, Ellen Lupton has a column on how to lose a legacy.  Lupton examines our relationship with physical things: how keeping a set of dishes within a family for generations provokes feelings on continuity and connectedness – or, loosely paraphrased, how her non-hunting husband wound up with a doe’s head hanging proudly in their suburban living room.

These items can be wonderful, meaningful additions to our lives, Lupton asserts—but they can also be a burden. Storing, moving, and caring for the souvenirs of days gone by can be a challenge – as anyone who has ever tried to decorate for the holidays and move cross country in the same year can tell you!

Even if you want to retain every memento, from your children’s macaroni masterpiece through the dessert menu from the last time you went to Olive Garden, there’s always a risk of loss.  Natural disasters, housekeeping concerns, and plain old entropy are conspiring against you – not to mention lack of storage space!

Laughter is a Legacy that Endures

The same can’t be said for every legacy.  If we shift the conversation from the tangible to the experiential, we begin to see the real value in the connections we have with others.  Our relationships can be examined in the light of time spent together, milestones, moments and memories taking the place of treasured coffee mugs or Mother’s favorite garden hat. When we look at how those connections are forged, given light and strength and meaning, often what we find is laughter.

There’s a reason for that. Often, we consider laughter as a very individual event – something that gives us joy, something that makes us happy.  Yet leading biological researchers have come forward with the theory that laughter plays a pivotal role in ensuring humanity’s survival.  Laughter triggers positive feelings in other people, dissipating tension and strengthens bonds. When people are in high stress situations – primitive humans trying to survive in a hostile world or a team of colleagues trying to complete a project on time and budget – this dissolution of tension can ensure that groups stay on task, objectives are met, and goals realized.  At a minimum, frustration and hostility can be alleviated – you’re less likely to harbor ill will toward the person who can make you laugh.

Building A Legacy of Laughter

If we want a way to connect ourselves with others, whether they’re members of the previous generation or the next one, it’s essential to shift the focus away from physical, tangible objects and onto experiences.  Spending time with others, in person or via virtual connection, is the foundation of memory. Those positive emotional experiences we have – laughing together, sharing a silly moment, even those embarrassing moments that need a few month’s worth of perspective to provoke a chuckle – serve as a common ground where we’re connected to each other.  These moments have an additional value: they can be shared with a third party, recreating and expanding the joy to include even more people, strengthening and reinforcing bonds.  That’s the legacy of laughter: the stories that connect us and give us a collective identity.

Posted in: For Women Only

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A Crude Awakening: What The BP Oil Spill Teaches Us About Humor

There’s absolutely nothing funny about the BP oil spill.  No one would argue that – yet people are still laughing. (For example, see BP Spills Coffee)  If there’s one lesson we can take away from this entire tragedy, it’s that humor can fill numerous roles, some of which aren’t immediately obvious.

Humor Provides a Framework for Processing Tragedy

“The oil spill is getting bad,” David Letterman said, “There is so much oil and tar now in the Gulf of Mexico, Cubans can now walk to Miami.”  Confronted with an environmental disaster of unimaginable scope, we reach for ways to make sense of it all.  Letterman’s joke captured the scale of the spill in an unexpected way – weaving in some social commentary guaranteed to get a laugh from his audience –  deftly informing and assuring his audience that the situation was indeed that bad.

In a similar vein, we see the quips about BP’s new bio-degradable oil collection system – aka known as pelicans. These jokes are undoubtedly in bad taste, yet they also allow people a way to give voice to one of their largest fears. Simply speaking about what we’re afraid of relieves stress, tension, and anxiety.

Humor as a Tool of Social Commentary

BP is a huge corporation, with tremendous financial resources and a legal team the likes of which few, if any, of us have.  This disparity makes it difficult to have a meaningful dialogue. Why would this huge organization listen to a lone individual? If you’re not already powerful in your own right – an elected official, for example, or a media figure – it can be very difficult to get the attention of BP, much less their response.

Unless, of course, you use humor. A deadly combination of razor sharp sarcasm and social media prowess, the BPGlobalPR Twitter feed is Leroy Stick’s parody of official BP communications.

If we’re being accused of being criminals, we want to be tried by a jury of our peers – wealthy execs who don’t give a damn #fairisfair

We are not killing animals in the gulf, we are creating fossils in the gulf. Have a little perspective #bpcares

The feed gained so much attention – in no small part because they are the perfect encapsulation of the public’s frustration and rage – that BP not only noticed, they took action to have the messages stopped.  Pressure from BP resulted in Twitter forcing Stick to disclose that it was not the official BP site, creating more controversy and broadening the conversation about the initial oil spill and BP’s response. Humor has been critical in engaging the community, and creating a platform for social discourse accessible to all.

Lessons Still To Learn

BP hasn’t  yet figured out how to stop the oil, and the lessons we have to learn about how mankind will respond to the crisis are still flowing fast and furious.  It’s a dynamic environment, and we see the use of humor changing as the situation develops. As a no-cost, ever adaptive, portable, always available resource, humor may be the most critical resource we have at our disposal.

Posted in: Catching Up With Karyn

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