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Black humour in crisis

The most recent chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria acts as a reminder of what the Syrian people have been enduring in these years of war. How can one cope with all of that? If you watched the footage, the face of people gassed with sarin is probably impressed in your mind. How can activists, aid workers, first responders deal with all of that day in and day out?

H., a Syrian activist turned aid worker, tells me how his whatsapp is filled with images of wounded and dead. One of the coping strategies to make it through the day when confronted with all this violence is to rely on humour and satire. “What else can we do?” he says. His words reminded me of an email I received from The Syria Campaign after the Idlib massacre: “Please watch this 60 second video of the brand new device called PEG which shows how politicians are ignoring war crimes. Sometimes humour is the best way to make powerful people take action writes the author. “As a Syrian” he continues “I am used to dark humour. It is how we survive the worst times. Humour is what makes us human. It will never be taken away from me.”  

We may not need research to tell us that black humour in inhumane situations is essential. Still it’s interesting to read what social work researcher Alison Rowe has to say about it: black humour “is almost universally used as a coping strategy by emergency personnel, and it is vital to their profession.” In fact in stressful life-and-death situations, individuals use black humour as a way of “venting their feelings, eliciting social support through the development of group cohesion, and distancing themselves from a situation, ensuring that they can act effectively.” Moreover black humour increases “pain tolerance at a physical and emotional level.”

Some may find resorting to humour in such tragic times cynical and inappropriate. What seems inappropriate to me is how numb we’ve become to atrocities. Black humour sometimes it’s all that we have left in the face of personal, political and humanitarian crisis].  

aid workers and black humour

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Mindfulnext/Aid to Zen 2011-2017 Creative Commons License
Mindfulnext by Alessandra Pigni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.