By Dr Nicola Taylor
I recall with fond memories a talk given by Professor Jonathan Jansen at a conference a few years ago when he encouraged the audience to not despair about the state of our nation. He said that we had a lot to be hopeful for in South Africa, because we have the tools to bounce back from almost anything. He was, and still is, right.
Besides our capacity to forgive, self-correct, and our general moral direction as a nation, he indicated that one of the key tools that we have at our disposal is the ability to laugh at ourselves. I believe that when we take ourselves too seriously, we fail to recognise the inherent beauty that exists in our weird and twisted world that loves to swing wildly between chaos and structure in the effort to find harmony.
One of the side effects of the current pandemic is that I have to postpone my wedding that was supposed to take place at the beginning of May. One of my cousins’ first reaction to this was “Nics, this coronavirus is a disaster for your wedding!” I immediately shut her down with agreeing that coronavirus is indeed a disaster, but we see moving the wedding as an inconvenience. It’s not a big deal – I waited 6 years (some might say 40), so what’s an extra few months? It’s so easy to buy into the drama and emphasise the negative when something bad happens. When my wedding band arrived with the now-incorrect date engraved on it, I laughed and said that it was one way that we’ll always remember that time we had to move our wedding because someone caught a cold in China. We can have the engraving fixed, but I really think I’ll keep it as a reminder.
Research shows that maintaining a sense of humour in difficult times helps people to recover more easily. Prisoners of war in Vietnam used humour as a coping mechanism, seeing it as a vehicle for communication and in a sense fighting against the oppression that they were experiencing. They were left with minimal effects of mental illness. Humour has also been shown to improve optimism, resilience, and reduce the likelihood of depression.
While it is tempting to get sucked into the vortex of bad news, infection rates, deaths, and feelings of isolation, trying to find the humour in the situation can be a helpful antidote. I’m certainly not suggesting that we ignore the realities. But share the memes. Laugh at your “grocery-run” get up. Smile at the absurdities that we are faced with. It’s okay to laugh – they say it’s the best medicine after all.