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Dynamic Chiropractic – August 18, 2000, Vol. 18, Issue 18

What's Happened to Humor?

By Louis Sportelli, DC
The call came from the editor: "Your column is due." That didn't put me in a particularly humorous mood. I wondered where all the time had gone. The more I thought about the deadline and my ill humor, the more significant the issue of humor became. I thought I would just get myself in a jovial mood and write about humor. Maybe this attitude-changing stuff really works, I thought.

I went to the newspaper to get some material to write about and the news was filled this week with the latest craze..."air rage." Featured were a host of individuals trying to justify in fancy terms what would simply have been called "bad behavior" a few decades ago. We now give names to all these phenomena: "air rage," "road rage," "managed care rage," even the term "going postal" has crept into our vocabulary. This article is the result of "writer rage."

It seems that things were different only a few short decades ago. I was with some very dear colleagues for a few days and we had a great dinner. Our discussions related to the "tough times" when we had to struggle for legislation and battle for licensure. From those days emerged an inseparable bond and camaraderie that has transcended decades. Did you ever notice how tragedy seems to bond people forever? Whether it is the tragedy of a natural disaster that forces people to bond together for survival and safety or a disaster where shared grief is the common denominator, the result is the same-a strong, lasting bond.

A few weeks ago I was teaching a course on sexual harassment to a group of 150 doctors of chiropractic. Every one of these doctors, who intimately touch their patients' hearts, minds, and bodies, was now listening to a lecture warning of the dangers inherent in every encounter with patients and staff. Many of the old timers simply did not understand or believe what they were hearing about "harassment," "hostile work environment," "quid pro quo" and other legal challenges facing providers. "Who would do that?" asked one young fellow in practice for 50 years. There were sighs of despair and sounds of sadness throughout the room. Stories were told about the really nice times we have with our staff and patients, telling jokes (some a bit off color), giving hugs, offering compliments, and doing the things that make us human.

Today we have become so fearful of a smile or a compliment in the work setting. We are so afraid we will be misunderstood or have our words misconstrued that we do not make eye contact, do not offer a kind word to uplift the spirits of another, do not give a hug, and do not bond with one another. We do not get up from one desk to go to another to speak to a co-worker; instead, we send an email to our co-worker only 5 feet away or a voice mail to our friend in the next room, and then lament that people do not talk to each other any more. The fun seems to have gone out of our profession, and that was a significant part of the joy of work.

I look at some of our local, state and national meetings of chiropractors. Everyone laments that the attendance is down, and no one wants to participate any more. What can we do to get them there? Maybe we need to change the format.

One simple bit of advice is to inject some humor back into the meetings. Take a serious look at the lack of humor and try to figure out a way to rekindle the flickering flames of the fire of frivolity. To begin with, let's call a truce to jamming 10 hours of information into four hours and try to find some time to permit some leisure time to enter into every gathering. We should allow time for colleagues to get together over a "cup o' Joe," and let the conversations and the connections flow. We should ban cell phones and e-mail from every function with the exception of the most essential communications. Back at home, we might even try halting voice mail for a month, answering the phones or simply letting them ring. If we need to talk, we can pick up the phone, or walk a few steps and see if that moment of visual contact and that second where the flesh is pressed or a hug is exchanged will not establish a better bond, and increase productivity and relationships.

I think some of our "chiro-rage" is being fueled by the fact that we do not get together to solve an issue anymore. We assemble for the most part to have a "pity-party" or listen to some angry admonition on the topic of the day. By the time everyone leaves, they are more depressed than when they arrived. Attendance at such meetings is waning. Is it any wonder?

Maybe what is really needed is to put aside every issue on the plate, even those we think are important, and just have a few meetings for the next few months with no speakers (unless they are humorous or positive), no issues (unless they are designed to help us build a stronger personal bond), no soliciting contributions (no matter what the cause), and no politics (none). After the first few moments of cultural shock, we might just go back to looking at our colleagues again, enjoying a good hug (which I call the "chiropractic handshake"), and partaking of the fellowship and friendship of a truly human personal experience. Take a few moments to laugh, a few moments to cry, a few moments to feel, and a few moments to share. Who knows what kind of new age "movement" we may start, by just doing what we (as chiropractors) used to do naturally.

Think about your own life and those friends who were with you through good times and bad; most of the bonds with them were built through involvement and commitment. Those are the fundamentals that enabled relationships to weather storms of grief, misery and despair, and still emerge victorious and triumphant. Perhaps we just need to put some time into building our relationships as colleagues, and to pepper our differences with humor. Who knows what might develop?

As for myself, I'll just read a humorous book and see what happens until my next column is due.

Louis Sportelli,DC
Palmerton, Pennsylvania

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