Behrman House Blog

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right


As part of our Israel21c trip, we visited the Emek Medical Center in Afula. Why? To learn about “clown therapy.” Clown therapy? What is that? Is this a real hospital?

So we dutifully trooped into a conference room to meet with “Professor Sancho,” whose photo accompanies this post. As you can tell, I was skeptical. But Prof. Sancho grabbed me when he described what he does: “I look for the tension, and work there.” Here’s a man who looks for anxiety, looks for uncertainty, looks for fear. And what does he do when he sees it? He walks into it.

I guess the Dr. Pancho at work at Emek Med Cntrmagic of what he does is that he’s a clown, and so he has permission to bumble around (who is threatened by a clown?) and explore and poke. And if he gets into those crevices, those cracks where anxiety, tension, and fear hide—where we sometimes hide them from ourselves—maybe he has a chance to dissolve it, or at least make a start.

Professor Sancho works with kids; I expected that. He works with adult patients; I didn’t expect that. And he works with the hospital staff; I didn’t expect that either. And the hospital reports of clinical studies showing improved outcomes when Prof. Sancho and his brother and sister clowns are on the scene. I certainly didn’t expect that.

He has another way of putting it, and again he expresses himself in spatial terms. He gets “in between everybody.” What does that mean? He reorders relationships. “The patient is at the bottom. I put myself under him.” And the doctor? Prof. Sancho puts himself above the doctor. And so: “For a moment, the child is above the doctor.” Prof. Sancho didn’t use that over-used corporate platitude, but what he does is empower the patient.

With Dr. PanchoWhich got me thinking about clowns, and humor, and anxiety, and fear. And leadership. What does any leader do? Could be the leader of a club. Or a company. Or a school. One important thing a leader does is look for what’s getting in the way, , and sometimes that’s fear. Fear of failure. Fear of not being an expert. Fear of the unknown. And when we see it, in that moment, each of us has a choice. We can turn away, and for sure that will feel better in the moment. Because in that moment, we can’t see it anymore. But it’s still there; it’s still in the cracks. Harder still, we don’t always have a Prof. Sancho to go there with us. So the challenge, for me and I think for many, is to remember to walk toward the tension, toward the uncertainty, toward the fear. Because in that act, we have a chance to dissolve it.