“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”~ Mark Twain.
I grew up in a family that made a joke of everything. My father had a wicked sense of humor, he would say the most outrageous things with a straight face, and it was only the hint of a dimple, or the quizzical look in his eye that would give him away. When you are born into a large family (I was the youngest) the pattern is already set, and in our household (unless it was Sunday, when everything was subdued and respectful) there was laughter, loud voices, and usually any number of extra bodies absorbed, whether on a temporary or permanent basis.
As the youngest, I was often the one to be teased, something I never learned to shrug off and laugh about. I would usually get my feelings hurt and cry, which only emboldened the one doing the teasing – they had obviously found the right button to push! In the nature versus nurture argument, it is often felt that nature wins; the study of identical twins separated at birth yielded surprising results. Though raised far apart, they often end up following similar career paths, sometimes marrying partners with the same names, living weirdly parallel lives. On the nurture side, there is the theory relating to the influence of birth order on a person’s development. The theory is that the eldest child will have strong leadership traits, will tend to have perfectionist tendencies. Like most theories, there are those who support and those who oppose. I always feel sorry for the first child though, young first-time parents must be hard to deal with!
But it is within the family dynamic that we begin to understand the world. We observe relationships and develop trust; we learn to negotiate or stand our ground; we learn the art of storytelling and fashion sense. My mother rarely wore nail polish. I get a regular pedicure, but never a manicure! So regardless of the gene pool, that fertile ground is what grows us. And if we are lucky, it provides us with the tools we need to develop into healthy and productive members of society.
I was reading an essay by the author David Sedaris, a man who has made his living off his family life. He has been open and honest and told his stories in a way which amuses and entertains, while giving food for thought. His siblings and friends have had to get used to being exposed regularly in his essays. He recently wrote about his mother, acknowledging that she was an alcoholic. It is not always easy to confront the pain of some experiences and expose them. His biggest regret was that no one in his family had confronted her with it, there was no family ‘intervention’. They had all colluded with her cover stories. In the end though, the only one we are responsible to ‘fix’ is ourselves, and the most powerful stories of recovery begin with personal responsibility, when the individual admits that they need help.
I recently heard the word ‘politainment’ which has apparently been around for over 10 years. It actually has a definition and describes two slightly different things: the entertainment industry exploiting political topics (I suppose like the shows ‘West Wing’ or ‘Veep’); and the way politicians behave more like celebrities by staging public appearances and photo-ops.
But when I heard it, I heard something completely different. As we try to make sense of this current world, a world where every day a new eyebrow-raising headline is published, we the people can only cope by seeing the entertaining aspect of it all. It is too exhausting and terrifying to begin to imagine the potential consequences of the words and actions emanating from our leaders, and so we laugh. It is impossible to process the simultaneous scandals, firings, resignations, law suits, in any intellectual way, and so we see it as satire, as reality TV gone wild. Every day when we turn on our favorite news channel, we empty our bladders, fill up our popcorn bowls, and prepare for the latest episode. And throw out our comments through social media to make sure our companions are catching this twist in the plot.
But wait! Now (I mean we always knew) we can’t even trust our social media platform! How do we know we aren’t being mined for data; our tendencies and personalities being analyzed and recorded. If I can’t trust social media to keep my secrets safe (apart from my thousands of friends and their friends and whoever else is trolling my page), then who can I trust?
These are scary times, and the only thing we can do to retain our sanity is to laugh at it and hope that somehow this will have a happy ending, but like Gladys we just go on, hurting and pretending! So for those who observe us from afar, and wonder how we got to this place, please know that we laugh to hide our pain and embarrassment at being a part of a society where the obscene is on full display, and fearmongering and bigotry is once more accepted behavior.
On this cool Friday morning in South Florida, I have faith that our better nature will prevail, that the positive will overcome the negative, and the fact that we have confronted and accepted the truth of our imperfect society will lead to a successful recovery. But it will take all of us working together to overcome. And if we are to keep MLK’s legacy alive, we WILL overcome.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!