I have a tendency to make jokes when I am uncomfortable, as a relationship builder, and when I am over stressed or tired. Usually these are really lame jokes, like puns, and are usually met with a half smirk, a groan, or head a shake. Yet, I still try.
In my workplace, there are fairly strict expectations about respect and having appropriate conversations, so I abide by them. However, in my practicum discussion class (I am in my second year of a Child and Youth Care degree program), I made a joke that was fading into the darker side of the grey area of humour.
Although no one mentioned anything and it appeared to be received well, I still found myself that night feeling disappointed in myself, and as if I had betrayed my values and the demographic of young women who I had made a comment about.
I was reading on this topic a bit, and found that in highly emotionally stressful jobs like palliative care (which this study took place in), humour served to create positive changes in affect and thinking, communication was less restrained and was enhanced, relationships were fostered, and it helped with easing tensions and managing emotions which had the spillover effect of improved care for the patients (Dean & Major, 2008).
Learning from my foot-in-the-mouth experience in the classroom, I’ve decided to make more of an attempt to reflect before I just blurt something out, and move my humour in the direction of situational humour rather than anything that could be offensive or taken personally.
I am sincerely curious about what your views as Child and Youth Care practitioners are, what guidelines you personally follow, and what structures are provided from your agencies.
Thank you in advance for your responses, I appreciate this.
Dean, R. A. K., Major, J. E. (2008). From critical care to comfort care: The sustaining value of humour. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 17(8), 1088-1095. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2007.02090.x
I think the line you walk with humour is that it depends on the intent and the impact. Sometimes there can be a large gap between the two. If the intent is to make heavy issues lighter, rather than simply making light of things this helps. However it is a challenge to be able to control for other people's perceptions of what is actually said. One always walks on thin ice when being humourous.
I take stock in the improv quote.....there position is "yes and". All things are embraced and there are no "no's".
Holly – you are modeling a fine process of self-awareness for us to follow.
Humour is vital to our presence in the world and enjoyment of life. The ability to reflect and think before speaking is also an important skill (and sometime all too rare).
If you haven't explored some of the contributions of our good friend John Digney of Ireland on the use of humor, here are two links as a starting point:
Kia Ora Holly,
You might be interested in this book which is available either by e-Book or printed copy via The CYC-Net Press at this site:
It's worth reflecting on when humour and sarcasm separate into humour with hurtful, covert hostility.
My wife and I came in late one evening from a speaking engagement – trying to raise money! Driving onto campus, we found the road blocked by one of our 16-year-old female clients sitting in the middle of the road. She was refusing to return to the cottage, and around her were a Child & Youth Care Worker, her Therapist, and the Treatment Director – all trying to reason with her.
After stopping the car, I walked up and asked,
“What’s going on T——?”
She replied, “I don’t like it here?”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I don’t get enough attention,” she whined.
After a pause, I said, “Really?” And started to smile, noticing the four of us now talking with her at 10:30 PM. In just a beat, she looked around and started to laugh, and we all joined in. She got up, and still chuckling to herself, and went back into the cottage.
It’s a humorous moment I will never forget.
Charles L. Baker
As we are all too acutely aware humour can be a double-edged sword, where good use of humour can serve so many positive and 'therapeutic' purposes but when handled incorrectly it can be a weapon of mass destruction. You do open a number of topic for discussion in your email, not least of which is the notion of intentionality, 'what are you hoping to achieve through you interactions and interventions'. Rick spoke to this somewhat in his response and I believe that this can hold true for any type of intervention, whether through humour or not. When in relationship with 'other' – or when seeking to create a connect – we (if we truly wish to connect) will use whatever tools are in our toolkit – this can often include humour. Humour has so many functions, it can bring about many situation and biological changes; it can impact on mood and emotion, thought and cognition.
I am also struck but your words, 'In my workplace, there are fairly strict expectations about respect and having appropriate conversations'. I wonder how this translates into using humour!
In my daily life I use humour (probably much like yourself, with lame jokes and puns) all the time. In work with the kids, and colleagues and also in my personal life with family and friends. So, the implication that humour does not fit with 'respect' and 'appropriate conversation' is a big worry. Using humour correctly can be a display of respect – responding to someone’s immediate need for a 'lightening of the situation, ' an acknowledgment that you understand' or an, 'I am listening to you tell me about your trauma and want to left you know I want to help you manage your pain'.
This attitude that can exist within some programmes is in my opinion disrespectful. Often these are programmes that can be over punitive, rely on 'behaviour modification systems' and promote that staff 'don’t get too close'.
Like any other way of interaction with fellow humans we need to be continuously reflecting on: Why are we doing it this way; What do I wish to achieve; How is 'other' receiving me right now. If we truly believe we are doing it for the right reason, why abandon it????? Surely it is more about honing our skills and knowing that when it doesn't work or it backfires we can say, 'sorry'.
My PhD topic was born out of a conversation with my mentor and good friend (Yes, Garfat!). I worried about how I was perceived in my agency by colleagues and by the kids ... I realised that I was having the same concerns you might be having right now ... is humour professional?, is it appropriate? is it useful in Child and Youth Care practice?
Well Holly, after many years of researching and writing on the topic I find that I can answer YES to all 3! Can we say that about all types of interaction and intervention? Humour has been described as 'essential in the work we do with troubled kid', 'a great stress release in most situations', 'a way to raise an important issue without scaring someone off', 'a method for skilled intervention'. I could go on and on as I read from my research transcripts. Skilled and veteran front line staff and well informed managers place great value on humour (at least here in Ireland) – although as my 'international Child and Youth Care circle' expands I see humour being used well everywhere. In my research I identified 17 discrete positive/therapeutic functions of humour (not including the physiological) and I know there are probably many more. Humour is complex for sure, but humour is like a sort of glue.
Humour is invaluable and, certainly for me, I know I would not have lasted 25 years without my 'lame jokes' and 'silly puns'.
Do you know the quote from Nicholas Hobbs, 'a child should know some joy in each day'? Humour can be a mechanism for delivering this joy.
We need to better understand it, we need to better respect it and we need to keep it in out toolkit – but we also need to know how to use it properly and when to avoid at all costs. Humour (as a tool) must be 'kept sharp', as 'blunt humour' (not well intentioned) and coming from a dark place, can be (as once noted by Gerry Fewster), like a nuclear bomb.
Don't fear humour, embrace it ! It can be one of your greatest allies. There is lots of wonderful writings out there from disciplines such as medicine, nursing, psychotherapy and teaching (even CYC). Read as much as you can on the topic and soon you will see its value. We all need to crusade a little more to have humour accepted as a valuable thing in our work – but this will only come from a place of understanding (knowing the benefits and also the pitfalls) and a place of respecting (ourselves, our profession, our colleagues and our kids).
P.S. Also see: http://www.transformaction.com/othertrainings.html
Humor is a great stress reliever that I have seen used very often in work that is high pressure in working with high risk youth especially. In my practicum, I work with social workers, police officers and other individuals with similar kinds of roles. With these individuals, I have noticed a lot humour being used, even when it may not seem completely appropriate. The first time I met one of the police officers at my practicum placement, my supervisor had to explain to me afterwards that the police officers in the unit use a lot of "black humour" in order to cope with the many stressful situations they work with everyday. As I have continued to spend time with more and more individuals at this agencies and agencies we work alongside I have noticed that many of the workers use all kinds of humor. I do believe that it is a way to debrief and release the tensions that one is experiencing. However I think if you feel guilty about what you said it is important to reflect on your values and boundaries and ask yourself what you think is appropriate and what would be crossing a like. This may help you manage your stress by using humor in a way you are comfortable with.
I just wanted to take a minute and thank you all for your responses and insights. I sincerely appreciated reading what your experiences, are and have learned a lot about myself through your writing.
The lame jokes won't stop, but the ones that cause my heart to feel heavy will.