Written by Dispatch Monkey Admin, Kristen
Humour is an essential part of life. We use it to express happiness, to create a connection with other people, to conceal our emotions and yes, even to help us through stressful events. Victor Borge, one of the great humourists (and an extremely intelligent man, in my humble opinion) once said:
“Humour is something that thrives between man’s aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humour than in anything else. Because, you see, humour is truth.”
A sense of humour is important, and beneficial! We use humour to get us through a long day or night shift, sometimes to help us pass the time, sometimes to create a sense of lightness and sometimes to get through a really bad call; it can help release tension, break the ice, hide anxiety or fear, and help us with social acceptance. There are several theories about what humour is, identified and defined by various psychologists. The three main theories are:
- Superiority Theory – we feel better about ourselves because we are laughing at someone else’s failing or deficiency, or perhaps even our own. Such an example would be the time the officer pinged the cellphone of the subject only to find out, at the second ping request, that he actually pinged the phone number of his partner!! We all guffawed at that one.
- Incongruity Theory – the situation has an unexpected, or incongruous, outcome; that is to say, the “set-up” and the “punch line”. For example, that time the traffic cop’s patrol unit ran out of gas…classic!!
- Relief Theory – exactly as it sounds, a release of nervous energy to hide or express feelings. Remember that night shift, at the end of the month, when you felt (only a little bit) bad when you told your sheriff that the subject’s tags expired…(tee hee) 9 minutes ago?
The physical benefits of humour are plentiful. Laughing releases endorphins alleviating pain, it boosts the circulatory system increasing oxygen levels, is relaxes muscles, and lowers blood pressure and the heart rate. There are also psychological benefits such as relieving anxiety, anger, stress and depression. It improves morale and self-esteem, and helps to create feelings of hope, of intimacy and of optimism.
What makes us special is that, more often than not, our sense of humour can be – understandably – dark because of the situations we deal with on a daily, nay hourly, basis. How is it that we can feel superior to someone who is hallucinating because of some undiagnosed mental health issue and have a little giggle at what they are seeing on their ceiling? How is it that we smile (and roll our eyes) at our co-workers about the caller who is having a really bad day and called 911 because someone was stealing….their recycling?!? How is it that we crack a, what may be perceived as inappropriate, remark after receiving a call about a multi-vehicle collision involving serious injuries? Because…our experience is such that our truth is more calamitous than that of the “average” person. A common saying amongst the folks in this industry is “their worst day is our everyday”. So when you factor that into what influences our sense of humour: derision is exacerbated by fatigue and frustration, incongruity is experienced in hyperbole, and relief mitigated with sarcasm and morbidity.
Being able to find humour in the tragic is influenced by our proximity, or lack thereof, to the event. That is to say, psychological distance created by space, time, social connection or conscious separation. What they are saying is that humour can be found in a situation when it happens far from our sphere of influence, or some time has passed (when it’s not “too soon”), when it happens to someone we have no relation to or if we can’t personally empathize with the situation. All, or a combination of, these circumstances are in place when we use black humour to cope with a tragic event.
So, the next time you laugh at some outrageous situation and your first thought is “oh, I am going to H-E-double hockey sticks”, take heart…you may actually be normal! You are doing your best to make sense of a situation that makes very little sense and you may actually be helping your colleagues deal with that same situation. And on that note, I will share my most morbid of comments:
One day while co-workers and I were discussing aid missions in Turkey and, tragically, people died when trying to get to food that was being dropped, I made a comment that essentially came out as “they were dying for food.” There were dropped jaws all around but there was also laughing once the shock wore off. And to think I wasn’t even if this industry at the time! I was well prepared to use this, occasional, coping skill.
However, a word of caution…when you express your humour ONLY using negative and/or sarcastic inappropriate comments you may have reached your threshold and should look at seeking out professional assistance.