February 1, 2021
By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching
Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students.
Last week, about an hour into a Zoom meeting, I looked into my frame and caught a glimpse of the giant bag of dog treats and two upside-down wine glasses drying on the kitchen counter behind me. After a few not so subtle attempts to rotate my laptop to show a less embarrassing backdrop, I decided to let it go, and be OK with everyone on the call witnessing my kitchen counter in its full glory.
In fact, once I accepted the reality that I was framed by dog treats, I thought, “If I’d done this on purpose, it would be impressively funny!” followed by, “Did we really need to buy a ten-pound bag of dog treats for our ten-pound dog?” and then, “Why am I giving my dog treats but not myself? Oh, wait! The wine glasses…”
And then I started laughing. Right there in the middle of my Very Important Zoom Meeting.
In reflecting back on that moment, I’m pretty sure laughter wasn’t my first response. Initially, I’d felt annoyed at whichever family member had neglected to clean the kitchen counter (it might have been me!) and worried that the others on my call would think of me as less than professional. At some point, however, I must have chosen a different direction; I must have decided to let go and enjoy the moment.
Laughter reminds us of our humanity, our fallibility, and our capacity to experience joy. Much has been written about the science of why we laugh. In my observation, laughter tends to hit when we encounter an unexpected spin on a familiar topic. My daughter Isabel, a satirical comedian, has taught me how to laugh at such somber topics as anti-maskers, de-motivational sunsets, Edgar Allan Poe, and cereal.
Isabel has also taught me that the best comedians strive to connect, not divide, their audience. They avoid cheap shots like mocking people’s appearance or insulting someone with less social status. (Turns out all those male comedians who opened their stand-up sets with, “Take my wife. Please!” weren’t that clever.)
When we laugh at ourselves, we’d be wise to follow the same approach. At its best, laughing at ourselves is an acknowledgment of the humor in our unpredictable, imperfect, but also wondrous lives.
How can we laugh at ourselves without putting ourselves down? Could self-laughter even lift us up? If you want to explore these questions, here are some things to try:
- Check out laughter yoga.
Once we start laughing, even if we don’t know why at first, we get caught up in the experience. We are compelled to breathe more deeply. We vocalize, and feel the vibrations of our voices in our hearts and rib cages, and in our brains and bones. We lose control while feeling our power.
- Be a laughter detective . . .
Look for laughter in everyday events. Can you find someone who is laughing at the grocery store? On your morning walk? In the car next to you at a red light? Maybe you’ll even spot someone quietly giggling on your next Zoom meeting. What about in your classroom?
- . . . Especially in the classroom.
Do your students laugh? If so, why? Are they uncomfortable? Are they putting someone down? Are they experiencing actual joy? What do you do when your students begin to laugh? How can you incorporate kind and uplifting laughter into your students’ school day?
- Take notes.
Next time you find yourself laughing, pay attention to what is going on in your body. Laughter makes us give up some control. It relaxes us and boosts endorphin production. It often brings up feelings. Notice what happens to your body and mind next time you laugh.
- Spread the word.
Tell your students about a time you did something ridiculous and chose to laugh about it. Then encourage them to find opportunities to laugh, gently, at themselves.
The new normal of video conferencing provides a shared stage for all of us, young and old, no matter the profession, to have opportunities for self-laughter because we’re actually seeing ourselves more than ever before.
In my home, the dog treats and wine glasses have been put away, and my kitchen background now consists of a tasteful and appropriate leafy plant over my left shoulder and a clean counter over my right. Still, I’m looking forward to the next time I get to laugh kindly at myself.
This week, may you find a moment of levity in your own video screen, or in the flotsam and jetsam around you that signify life in progress.