Gallows humor about work

Although it’s a book of self-help and inspirational quotes, the most therapeutic quality of Kathryn and Ross Petras’s Don’t Forget to Sing in the Lifeboats (2009) is its very title. When I recently saw the book on display at a local bookstore, I just kept giggling at the title. And I’m still giggling about it.

You see, when I think about dysfunctional organizations hell-bent on doing dumb things despite abundant reasons that support taking a different course, I quickly lapse into Titanic references. As in “aiming for the iceberg,” “reshuffling the deck chairs while the boat is sinking,” and so forth. Don’t forget to sing in the lifeboats is the next logical chapter in the story. Hey, we may be on a sinking ship, but at least we can invoke our gallows humor and laugh about it, right?!

Now, gallows humor can have the effect of baking in a deep cynicism. If you’ve reached the point of laughing at something you don’t like, then negotiating a better, more constructive relationship with it can be difficult. Such is the case with workplaces.

On the other hand, humor can be a useful defense mechanism and a powerful source of resiliency. If, for example, you’re in a crazy-making workplace, a healthy sense of humor can help to preserve your sanity.

So if you’re in that lifeboat, then maybe it’s time to burst into song. Anyone up for a few rounds of “The Beer Barrel Polka“?


(For the curious, the book title is actually an adaptation of a quote from the French philosopher Voltaire: “Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”)

One response

  1. LOL I can’t tell you how many times when I have faced challenges that I was overwhelmed by that I would find humor in that gave me the ability to recover from and to refocus on to regain my ability to face my options as to what I could do! Thank you for sharing, I am someone who have faced bullying on the Catholic school’s playground protecting my multi-challenged sister, in the hospital I worked for, and I have come full circle, once again I have witnessed it in schools. When I was a child in school their were nuns who bullied my sister and I would put water from the fountain in their rubber boots, at the hospital I gathered evidence and sent it to the Federal Government which came from Boston to investigate and they were found to be noncompliant. I am still involved in addressing the issues of Bullying only this time I am going to the source of the problem, I am going to legislature to find legal solutions. I started in 1999 by speaking publicly and testifying in committees. In 2004 the bill passed. I continued to advocate for Bullying Laws in Schools, I advocate for the disabled, in 2007 I received a call from Dr. Gary Namie Ph.D in Bellingham, WA asking if I would be willing to be a volunteer to be the Vt. State Coordinator for the Healthy Workplace Bill, this was a bill about bullying in workplaces. I have vast knowledge of bullying in the workplace as did his wife Ruth Namie who also has a Ph.D and she had been bullied in the College she worked at. Today, thanks to Gary Namie and his wife Ruth have broken the ice, bullying in the workplace is no longer being hidden, the silent epidemic is no longer silent. The movement has changed since the 1999 movement started. It took courage and dedication of these two people to take on challenging task to stop the bullies and now we have coordinators in thirty eight states and we are working together to stop the bullies. see the Healthy for more information in your State.

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