By MICHAEL G. MANES
Manes and Associates
Smiling will make you feel and do better, even in the worst of times.
Today and for the foreseeable future, our worlds will be more chaos than calm, more challenging than comfortable, and more high risk than operating inside our individual and collective comfort zones.
I believe a cancer of concern, chaos, and confusion will be driving us, our worlds and marketplace for the near (and maybe longer term) future versus the cruise control we enjoyed in the Good Old Days. Our attitude can help us determine if we’re victors (survivors) or victims (R.I.P.). Even if you don’t survive, a positive attitude will make your transition into the next life better and less bitter.
Consider this excerpt from Norman Cousins, Still Laughing, by Don Colburn, The Washington Post, October 21, 1986.
“About 10 years ago, an improbable article about an improbable medical recovery launched an improbable second career for Norman Cousins. … Cousins wrote an article titled Anatomy of an Illness (As Perceived by the Patient) in The New England Journal of Medicine.
“Cousins’ article chronicled his remarkable recovery from a severe and life-threatening disease of the connective tissue called degenerative collagen illness. He was hospitalized in 1964 with severe pain, high fever and near-paralysis of the legs, neck and back.
“’Being unable to move my body was all the evidence I needed that the specialists were dealing with real concerns,’ he wrote. ‘But deep down, I knew I had a good chance and relished the idea of bucking the odds.’
“The key to his recovery, he said, was a powerful drug called laughter. ‘I made the joyous discovery that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,’ he wrote.”
Fast forward to our new reality. Today, with the pandemic and our lockdown and lockout of the marketplace, I believe, not since September 11, 2001, is there a greater need to laugh, smile, pray (if you’re so inclined) and find the good news and hope at our home, office, neighborhood, church, and anywhere else we assemble. This will be good medicine.
I am certain that none of us will come out of this world alive. The only control we have in life is how we respond to the challenges we face, how we use the time we have. Our choice is simple. We can choose to be a survivor or we can choose to be a victim. In the case of the coronavirus and everything else, if we choose victim, we give our future to the disease and every other challenge we face.
When we create a self-fulfilling prophecy of limitation, we forfeit our freedom and probably our long term future. If we choose to be a survivor, our attitude and odds improve. Perseverance is a survivor’s battle cry. Victimhood is a white flag of surrender.
To honor Norman Cousins’ discovery of the medication he called laughter, I offer the following real-life memories and legends from happier times and suggest you do the same.
-In 10th grade history class, I was talking out of turn. Miss Patout said, “Manes, is that you talking.” I responded, “No Miss Patout, my pencil is a ventriloquist.” I got a great response from my fellow students and a trip to the principal’s office.
-In Latin 201 at USL, several graduates from Jesuit High School knew more Latin than did the teacher. They didn’t need to study or attend class to make an A. Their attendance was less than stellar. They missed a class on Wednesday and returned on Friday with their hands and arms bandaged up from an auto accident they had driving back from New Orleans Wednesday night after a night of drinking. The teacher told them to leave, since they had missed too many classes.
Jerry (the leader of the pack) pleaded with the teacher for one more chance because of the accident. She demanded he prove that he really was hurt. She insisted to see his hand without the bandages. He took off the bandages and showed her his real injuries. He then said, “Do you want to put your hand in my side?” He prevailed in the short term. Months later he was killed driving back from the “Big Easy.” He died very young but experienced more than many of his long lived contemporaries that were risk averse. Do you want to die living or live dying?
-August was in basic training with me. He was the most innocent soldier in our company. Gomer Pyle was a sophisticated character compared to August. Our company commander was wired tight. During his first inspection of the troops, he confronted August, by yelling, “Private August, your shit’s flaky.” August responded, “I think it’s the hot weather we been having, Sir.” The other soldiers in the formation had to bite their lips hard to keep from laughing. August was innocent and honest.
-The role of fire guard in the wooden barracks at night was a combination of necessity and a chance to learn discipline. After a long hard day of training, fire guard duty seemed impossible. It meant walking an hour or more in the dark while others slept. One soldier rested up against the wall and dozed off. A drill sergeant (DI), seeing the fire guard was asleep, walked up to the soldier and spoke to wake him. The fire guard opened his eyes without looking up. He saw the DI’s boots, said “Amen,” and made the sign of the cross. There was no prohibition on praying.
-My momma was short, very short. I was head and shoulders taller than her even as a teenager. One day I was holding my tube of Brylcreem in my hand. I’m animated, and often when I talk, I talk with my hands. To make a point, I pounded my fist into my hand and shot a wad of the hair cream on momma’s new wallpaper. She was furious. In an attempt to save my life, I said, “If you’re really mad, look me straight in the knee and say George Washington three times!” That day George did more than saving our country; he saved my life. She laughed.
-Working at the Keg, in Lafayette, Louisiana (#1 Budweiser bar in the U.S.), in 1966 we served hard drinkers, casual drinkers, and virgin drinkers. One night a young man walked in, probably underage and certainly innocent of bar life. He asked for a “Scotch in Tom Collins.” I asked, “Is that one drink or two?” He responded, “They mix, don’t they?” I delivered his requested drink, and the old timers watched him consume what we would never try.
In times of chaos and isolation, like we are living through now, I encourage you to remember the good old days…. Laugh. Don’t take yourself too seriously and help others to lighten up. None of us will get out of here alive. Don’t look at the dark side; watch for the rainbows.
Then, I believe all of us, with the right attitude and a willingness to take risks and be different, will be better in the end. When I die, I want to know I lived.
MICHAEL G. MANES is the owner of Manes and Associates, a New Iberia-based consulting business. He can be reached at email@example.com or 337-577-3885.