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Some chicken, some neck: Why humour’s beneficial in trying times | Marcel Strigberger

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 @ 10:41 AM | By Marcel Strigberger

Marcel Strigberger %>
Marcel Strigberger
To what extent is humour beneficial or rather perhaps necessary in these times of COVID-19 adversity? Some will drop platitudes such as, “Humour? You’re not taking this seriously,” or “This is no time for humour.”  

How did some of the iconic leaders handle tough times with humour?

Abraham Lincoln started a war cabinet meeting during the early part of the Civil War by reading passages from a humourist author. His cabinet remained gloomy, wondering how the president can turn to humour (the Americans would have spelled it “humor”) given the seriousness of the meeting. Lincoln did not waiver or apologize. He 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.”

Fast forward 80 years, Sir Winston Churchill’s use of humour in times of crisis was legendary. In addressing the Canadian Parliament in December of 1941, he related that some French generals predicted that England would have its neck rung like a chicken, in three weeks. His comment to our Parliament after proving the generals’ prediction wrong was, “Some chicken; some neck.”

Noted psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and author of bestseller Man’s Search for Meaning, encouraged concentration camp inmates to use humour whenever possible, noting individuals were able to employ humour to give them even a short respite from the horrors of the camps, thereby increasing their chances of survival.

Were these notable people making light of wars and ordeals? Or were they using humour to ease stress? Humour is known to do just that as well as enhance rapport, team bonding and spark creativity. We are not talking about jokes per se, but rather how one views a situation.

Which all gets us to COVID-19. Can we see and employ the benefits of humour here?

Let’s start at the bottom. Toilet paper. For some reason there is a run on toilet paper (pardon any pun). Store shelves are cleaned out (pardon again!). Toilet paper is almost becoming a currency standard. It’s easier to find a loonie than it is a four-pack of cashmere. This frenzy is reminiscent of the tulip mania in 17th century Holland where the craze actually had people using tulips as currency. Who knows? Most of us would certainly have difficulty fitting a roll into our wallet.

Speaking of rolls, Tim Hortons cancelled then modified its annual Roll Up the Rim to Win contest. Many people don’t like now having to set up an app, redeeming online and compromising their privacy all for a free maple covered doughnut. Worth the calories?

Then there is the suspension of the NHL and other sporting events. That is nothing to laugh about except for the fact that it will put ticket scalpers out of business. I doubt that if the government offers financial aid to any sector of economically hit folks, that such help will extend to the scalpers. Alas!

Even China and Nepal have closed access to would-be climbers of Mount Everest. If this venture was plan B for any avid Leafs fans, you’re out of luck. My word! Where’s the justice?

And speaking of justice the courts have suspended trials and other services. It started with the suspension of jury trials as several hundred potential jurors, many elderly, would otherwise all have to sit in a crowded room waiting for their names to be drawn. This suspension had a silver lining. I’m sure these people were smiling as most folks would place being randomly dragged to court for jury duty, by a cold notice from the sheriff’s office, for nominal compensation, on the same list as undergoing a colonoscopy.

Now only super urgent matters are dealt with. Again, sort of a silver lining, as I doubt there are too many people with speeding tickets, they want to fight who will bang down the doors of the courthouse demanding a speedy trial so they can clear their good name. And what about the lawyers? For a change, nobody can blame them. 

And speaking of money, (the real stuff, not that other currency) let us not forget the crashing stock market. Can anybody see any humour here? Not much, unless you stayed out of the stock market altogether. Or rather unless you stayed out or bought shares of White Swan.

So, can we use some humour these days? Let me conclude with a quote from Canada’s renowned humourist, Stephen Leacock who said, “The world’s humour in its best and greatest sense, is perhaps the highest product of our civilization.”

Let’s all stay calm, laugh a little and of course, remember to keep washing those hands. No toilet paper necessary.

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. Visit

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