When the Emancipation Proclamation was being drafted and the fate of the union was in doubt, Abraham Lincoln pulled out a humorous book. Much to the dismay of his long-faced cabinet members, he read an entire chapter aloud, pausing to laugh at the funniest anecdotes. After looking around the room and seeing only shock and disdain on the men’s faces, he said, “well, let’s have another chapter.” He then proceeded to read a second chapter. When no one joined him in laughter, he tossed the book aside and said, “Gentlemen, why don’t you laugh? With the fearful strain that is upon me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do.” (Don Seitz, Artemus Ward: A Biography and Bibliography, p. 113-114, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919; New York: Beekman, 1974).
The lengthy list of pandemic indignities, inconveniences, frustrations, and disasters has spawned a great deal of grief and fear, but it has also given rise to the need for a public chill out. And why not? Finding things to laugh about during desperate times brings a degree of relief and normalcy that is sorely needed. Our union is once again threatened by profound divisions. Before the pandemic, we were rabid about either impeaching our president or protecting him. Can you believe it’s only been a few short months?
Fast forward just a few pages on the calendar. Now, if we dared to breach the 6-foot personal space of our neighbor, we’d be at each other’s throats again. This time the issue is whether wearing a mask makes us a hero or a mindless goat. We’re either the only people in the world with an ounce of sense, or we’re pawns of a fascist, mind-controlling deep state.
Our world has made us into absurd caricatures. Political conservatives have morphed into health policy liberals, pushing the boundaries of medical advice in hopes of opening the economy more quickly. Liberals have become conservative tote-the-line compliance geeks tattling on their neighbors for daring to hold an outdoor barbecue.
Yep, it’s time to take a serious or umm . . whimsical look at Abe Lincoln’s Civil-War-Era approach to mental health. In the book, Threads of Resilience: How to Have Joy in a Turbulent World, an entire chapter is devoted to humor as a resilient “thread.”
“Laughter dismantles fear, becoming like a big hug that says, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ Laughter reduces stress, lubricates the conflicts in a relationship to help the parties get past offenses, reduces pain, boosts the immune system, and gives us a break from dark and serious issues.” (Charles Chamberlain, Laraine Chamberlain, and Jeremy Chamberlain, p. 172, Ohio: Author Academy Elite, 2020)
More than anything right now we need a big hug, a way to get past offenses, a reduction in pain, a boost to our immune systems, and a break from serious issues. Let’s look for the humor in everything we do. Good old Abe would be proud.