"I have always believed that one can be too darn serious in this life and that it is the height of folly to let all the fun evaporate from what could be extremely happy and memorable experiences, if only we allowed them to be. The simple truth is that a happy life always seems too short an experience and an unhappy existence, too long a life!
When I ran groups for over twenty five years, we always began with the same ice-breaking exercise during our first session, when I asked all members to look at the person on their right and stick out their tongue at them. The second exercise was to ask the group to look at the person on their left and to pull the funniest face they could at them.
The most surprising thing was that very few group members could perform this task with absolute strangers without dropping through the floor with acute embarrassment. My response was always the same. For their third exercise, I would ask them to close their eyes and imagine the very problem behaviour that they wished to change and which had brought them to my group. I also asked them to visualise all of the worst consequences their problem behaviour had ever brought them and would continue to produce, unless/until they were successful in changing it.
When the group opened their eyes, I simply said, 'How can I or anyone else for that matter, ever hope to help you change problem behaviour that you've been stuck with for years and years if you cannot do something so simple as to pull a face at someone or stick your tongue out at life?'
Such was my way of showing all present, the funnier side to their serious situations, besides indicating that changing one's behaviour and response pattern often involved doing hard work upon seemingly simple things. Were they ever to hold a balanced view upon all situations we would look at throughout the six month course, they would need to examine the fearful and the frivolous, distinguish between the embarrassing and the humorous and learn to appropriately express their full range of emotions at the moment of their birth, in the confidence that their feelings shall be listened to, respected and not denied. I also indicated that it was profoundly disrespectful to give me two hours of their time weekly by attending my group, if they couldn't give a few precious moments to their loved ones whenever needed.
When I then asked, 'Do you want to reach this stage by the end of the course?' all indicated in the affirmative. My next words were, 'Well then, to take your first step upon this ladder of progression, turn to the person on your right and stick out your tongue at them. Then after you've done that, turn to the person on your left and pull the funniest face you can at them. Those who cannot, don't bother returning to the group next week.'
I cannot recollect anyone ever walking out. The groups I operated produced the highest success rates for behavioural change in the country within the Probation Service. Often, many years after concluding their group participation, a person might have occasion to pass another person in town who'd been in the same group as they had years earlier, and while most ordinary people would say, 'Hello' in this situation as they passed, many former group members would either stick out their tongue or pull a funny face before moving on. This gesture had become their symbolic group sign to simply say, 'I'm doing fine. Glad you are too.' And sometimes, the child who was accompanying them would look on in amazement before declaring, 'Why are you sticking your tongue out at that woman, Mum?' Sometimes the mum would smilingly reply to her child, 'Because she's an old friend, son. She's an old friend I once knew.'
As my dear old mum often used to tell me,' Billy, laugh, and the world laughs with you; cry, and you cry alone.'
Come to think of it, having been born the eldest of seven children, I was the first member in my mother's group to benefit from her wisdom, and I know that she frequently stuck her tongue out and pulled faces at me." William Forde: October 6th, 2016.